The 107% rule is a sporting regulation affecting Formula One racing qualifying sessions. During the first phase of qualifying, any driver who fails to set a lap within 107 percent of the fastest time in the first qualifying session will not be allowed to start the race. The 107% rule was introduced for the 1996 season and remained in force until 2002. It was reintroduced for the 2011 season with minor modifications due to the knock-out qualifying format.
The governing body of F1, the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), introduced the 107% rule at a meeting of its World Motor Sport Council in June 1995, immediately prior to the French Grand Prix. This followed a recommendation from the Formula One Commission, a working group of F1 representatives, to introduce such a measure. Over the previous few years, the number of entries per season had dropped to 26, the maximum threshold for race starters, allowing every entrant to qualify for the race regardless of speed. For 1995, new technical regulations spaced out the field, whilst numerous teams with comparatively small budgets and slow cars, such as Forti, Pacific and Simtek, were competing in the sport. The regulation was originally planned to come into effect from the 1995 Hungarian Grand Prix, but this required unanimous support amongst the teams, and was vetoed by Forti and Pacific. Nevertheless, the fact that it was supported by the majority of the teams allowed the 107% rule's introduction from the start of the 1996 season. The mid 1990s also brought a number of pay drivers to the sport whose speeds would not have allowed one to race, such as Giovanni Lavaggi and Jean-Denis Délétraz.
Commenting on the introduction of the 107% rule, FIA President Max Mosley said that "any small team which is properly organised will be able to get within the 107 per cent margin". The sport's commercial rights holder, Bernie Ecclestone, agreed with this sentiment, saying in an interview that "Formula 1 is the best. And we don't need anything in it that isn't the best." He also accused some of the smaller teams of having a "startline special" mentality, in that they were solely concerned with entering the race to gain television coverage for their sponsors, and were not too occupied with actual performance given that all the entrants were guaranteed to make the race. On the other hand, the smaller teams were concerned at the prospect of having to lap within a maximum time in order to qualify, which they saw as exacerbating the inequalities already existent within the sport. Pacific's commercial manager, Mark Gallagher, said: "We have to say the 107% rule gives rise to concern among teams without works engines. It's got more to do with engines than chassis, and that's an area outside our direct capability. Closing the gap to Minardi is quite feasible, but the sudden arrival of the rule is worrying. If you have three years to plan whether or not to do something, that's very different from having the goalposts moved while you are playing the game."
The 107% rule was thus introduced at the 1996 Australian Grand Prix. It was breached immediately, as Forti drivers Luca Badoer and Andrea Montermini failed to lap within 107% of Jacques Villeneuve's pole position time. This had been an expected outcome, as the team was using an upgraded version of the previous year's Forti FG01 chassis, which had only qualified within 107% of pole position on one of thirty-four occasions beforehand. Both drivers also failed to qualify for the European Grand Prix, the fourth round of the championship. At the following race, the San Marino Grand Prix, Badoer drove the more competitive FG03 chassis for the first time, whilst Montermini failed to make the 107% cut in the older car. Both then failed to qualify for the Spanish Grand Prix two races later. By the tenth round of the championship, the British Grand Prix, the team was running out of money and made only a token attempt to qualify after not taking part in the preceding free practice sessions, neither car making the time limit. Following the next race, in which the team did not complete any laps at all, Forti withdrew from Formula One. In the latter half of the season, the Minardi team replaced regular driver Giancarlo Fisichella with the paying Giovanni Lavaggi, who failed to make the 107% cut at the German, Belgian and Japanese Grands Prix.
In 1997, the 107% rule was only invoked at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix. Villeneuve again set pole position with a time over a second faster than his nearest rival, resulting in a well-spaced field. As a result, Pedro Diniz, Vincenzo Sospiri and Ricardo Rosset all failed to make the 107% mark. Diniz was allowed to race at the discretion of the race stewards, who judged him capable of lapping within the limit, as he had indeed done so during the free practice session prior to qualifying. The FIA cited "exceptional circumstances" as the reason for his failure to do so during the qualifying session itself. Sospiri and Rosset, driving for the new MasterCard Lola team, were, however, five and six seconds off Diniz's time respectively, and well outside the qualification limit. Neither driver was allowed to start the race, and the team folded before the next Grand Prix.
During the 1998 season, Rosset—now driving for the Tyrrell team—failed to qualify on five occasions. He lapped outside the 107% time during qualifying sessions for the Spanish, Monaco, Hungarian and Japanese Grands Prix. He also failed to qualify for the German Grand Prix, but this was due to him not completing any laps at all after injuring his right elbow as a result of a heavy crash during free practice.
The 107% rule was invoked on two occasions in 1999. At the first round of the championship—the Australian Grand Prix—Marc Gené failed to lap within the required percentage of the pole position time in his Minardi. As with Diniz two years earlier, he was given dispensation to race after lapping within the limit during the free practice sessions. At the French Grand Prix later in the season, a qualifying session marked by a varying intensity of rainfall saw five drivers—Damon Hill, Gené, Luca Badoer, Pedro de la Rosa and Toranosuke Takagi—miss the cut-off, but all were allowed to start the race.
After a 2000 season in which no driver transgressed the 107% rule, it was enforced on three occasions in 2001. At the opening race in Australia, Tarso Marques failed to lap within the required time for Minardi. He was given permission to race under the reason of "exceptional circumstances", but this was despite the fact that he had not managed to set a time within the 107% mark in any session all weekend. It was rumoured that Marques was allowed to race because the team had been bought prior to the start of the season by Australian Paul Stoddart, who wanted both cars to compete in Minardi's new "home" Grand Prix. At the British Grand Prix, Marques again fell foul of the regulation, but was not allowed to start on this occasion. The Belgian Grand Prix also witnessed a wet qualifying session in which the track steadily dried, resulting in the four slowest qualifiers—Jos Verstappen, Fernando Alonso, Enrique Bernoldi and Marques—failing to lap within 107% of pole position. As in the similar case of the French Grand Prix two years previously, all were allowed to start the race.
The 107% rule also came into effect during the 2002 season. At the first round of the championship, the Australian Grand Prix, Takuma Sato crashed heavily during free practice and had to use the Jordan team's spare car for qualifying, only for the replacement to stop with a gearbox problem without setting a time. By the time his team-mate, Fisichella, did his first run and handed over his own chassis, it had begun to rain, leaving Sato with no chance of making the required time. However, he was allowed to start the race as in the case of previous cases affected by changeable weather conditions. Minardi driver Alex Yoong failed to qualify for the San Marino, British and German Grands Prix under the conditions of the rule, a turn of events which led to his replacement by Anthony Davidson for two races. At the French Grand Prix, the Arrows team was running out of money and made a token appearance during the qualifying session to avoid FIA-imposed fines for missing rounds of the championship; drivers Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Bernoldi failed to lap within the required time. Frentzen subsequently left the circuit with ten minutes of the session still remaining, making the team's ploy obvious. Fisichella also failed to set a time during this session, although this was the result of his withdrawal from the event following a heavy crash during free practice.
In total, there were 37 cases in which 107% rule was broken during the period in which it was a Formula One Sporting Regulation. Of these, 13 drivers were allowed to start the relevant race due to "exceptional circumstances". The rule affected 23 out of the 116 Grands Prix in which it applied.
The qualifying system changed for the 2003 season with the introduction of two ordered single-lap sessions to replace the previous free hour-long session in which drivers were allowed to complete twelve laps. Drivers also had to qualify with the race fuel on board their cars. Due to the scope for greater time disparities throughout the field that could occur as a result, the 107% rule was not mentioned when the FIA finalised the format prior to the beginning of the season, despite an earlier assurance that the rule would still apply. The governing body subsequently proposed the formal cancellation of the rule, which ceased to apply with effect from the 2002 Japanese Grand Prix.
Following the 2003 season, the timing of the two single-lap sessions was altered for them to occur on the same day, within 15 minutes of each other. This proved unpopular with the smaller teams, who were liable to make their runs at the end of the first session (as this was run in championship order) and at the beginning of the second session (which was run in reverse order of the results of the first session), and with TV spectators, who had to watch a longer programme as a result. During the 2004 season, the system's flaws were exposed, and proposed changes to the qualifying system made midway through the championship at one point seemed to suggest that the 107% rule would return as part of a new format. In the end, however, only minor changes relating to the timing of the existing sessions were made. Minardi team owner Paul Stoddart was particularly opposed to the reintroduction of the rule.
At the start of the 2010 season, new FIA President Jean Todt said that he was in favour of re-introducing the 107% rule, as the qualifying system has changed again so that all of the sessions are carried out with low fuel levels.
On June 23, a meeting of the FIA World Motor Sport Council determined that the 107% rule would be reintroduced for the 2011 season. The rule applies only to the first of the three qualifying sessions for each race.
Since its re-introduction, the 107% rule has been broken a further 15 times at 10 different races, exclusively by HRT, Caterham F1, and Virgin/Marussia drivers. Unlike the rule's first period of application, where infringing drivers were very rarely allowed to compete, only four of these occurrences of the rule violation resulted in the drivers being barred from the race. These were Vitantonio Liuzzi and Narain Karthikeyan at the 2011 Australian Grand Prix, and Pedro de la Rosa and Karthikeyan at the 2012 Australian Grand Prix - all of whom drove for HRT.
Use in other formulae
The 107% rule has also been used in other motorsport formulae.
It is currently in operation in the GP2 Series, where it has been applied on three occasions. Marcos Martínez failed to qualify for his debut race meeting at the Hungaroring in 2007 after failing to set a lap time due to engine problems, despite lapping within 107% of the fastest time in free practice. At the Monaco round of the 2009 season, Ricardo Teixeira failed to lap within 107% of the pole position time and was not allowed to take part in the races. During qualifying for the round of the championship held at the Hungaroring later that year, Romain Grosjean and Franck Perera collided before either had set a representative lap time: Perera was judged guilty of impeding and was barred from taking part in the first race, but allowed to start from the back of the grid in the second; Grosjean was given dispensation to start both races. Perera also failed to qualify for the Spa-Francorchamps races under the 107% criteria.
The 107% rule is also used in the GP3 Series. So far, a driver has only failed to qualify on one occasion. In the 2012 Silverstone round, Carmen Jordá failed to set a lap time within 107% of the pole time. As she was also outside 107% of the fastest time in the practice session, she was not allowed to start the race.
In Super GT series, a slightly different 107% rule is being used. The base time was being calculated by averaging time of top three vehicles in their class rather than by taking pole position time. All drivers in the non-seeded team must finish within this time in order to qualify for the race. However, teams which could not qualify in official qualifying sessions, may still be allowed to retry in following day's practice session, providing reasons such as accidents. In this case, the 107% of top three cars in practice session's will be used instead, in return, they will start at the back of the grid. In race using knockout format, a separated qualifying will be launched prior the knockout qualifying to decide teams which are allowed to take part in the race.
Another major difference of the 107% rule in Super GT is that there is a protection system called "seeded teams", which is awarded to each class's team which participated in all races and finished within top 12 in the previous season. "Seeded teams", provided they meet other entrance requirements, are allowed to participate in the race even when they have not met the qualifying time in official qualifying sessions. The right will be forfeited when the team switches class or withdraws from the series, the void caused by this will not be filled by other teams.