The Pole Position, or Fastest Qualifier market is a Formula 1 betting market that centres on the driver who will secure the top spot on the starting grid for a specific race. The aim is to predict which driver will achieve the fastest lap time during the qualifying session and thus start the race from the front of the grid, commonly referred to as the pole position.
In some motorsports, pole position simply goes to the driver who records the quickest individual lap during qualifying. For Formula 1, the situation is complicated slightly by having three qualification sessions (Q1, Q2 and Q3). During Q1, the slowest five drivers are eliminated, and the process repeats for Q2. With all previous times ignored, the remaining 10 drivers involved in Q3 then compete to clock the fastest time and their best lap will determine their grid position (between spots 1 and 10). So, not only do you need to pick a driver that can survive the first two rounds, but also the one that records the best Q3 time.
In Formula 1, as in many other forms of racing, pole position holds immense significance. Starting from the front of the grid provides several advantages, including a cleaner track with no competitors in front, which can be crucial in avoiding incidents or traffic jams during the race’s opening exchanges. With it such a highly sought-after spot, you can expect drivers to be giving it their all during qualification. This means the fastest qualifier market offers an exciting opportunity for bettors to predict which driver has the pace, skill, and car to secure the coveted position. It is a simple enough market, and if your pick starts on pole, your bet is a winner.
Other Pole Position Markets
- Fastest Qualifier and Win Race – With this market you are betting on a specific driver to top qualifying and also go on to win the race. They must complete both parts otherwise it’s a losing bet. Some bookies will also give you the option to back a driver for the trio of fastest qualifier, to win the race and record the fastest lap (during the GP itself). This bet if often listed as the ‘Hat-trick’
- Qualifying Winning Car – Rather than naming a specific driver, with this market you just need to pick the car/team of the winner of qualifying. In other words, which team will start on pole
- Qualifying Winning Margin – By what time margin will the fastest qualifier secure their pole position spot? This usually just involves picking a time margin from a small range of options and does not require specifying a particular driver
- Straight/Dual Forecast – As well as picking the driver you think will win qualifying, with a forecast bet you will also pick who you think will finish just behind. A straight forecast involves picking the fastest and second fastest qualifiers in the correct order. With a dual forecast, you pick two drivers but do not specify the order
Fastest Qualifier Betting Rules
When making your fastest qualifier bets, there are a few rules worth being aware of. These are largely consistent across bookmakers and will apply to most sites, but not necessarily all.
- Equal time – In the highly unlikely event that the two fastest drivers register an identical time, official FIA places will be used for the purposes of settling bets
- Demotions – The winner of the market is the driver credited with the fastest official qualification time. Any subsequent demotions or penalties will not impact bet settlement
- Q1 and Q2 times – Times recorded in Q1 and Q2 do not count for the fastest qualifier market, only Q3 times are relevant. The only instance where this will not apply is if there is a pre-planned change to the qualification schedule
- Cancellation – Should qualification not take place for any reason, all markets will be deemed void. If only Q3 is cancelled, bets will be settled as per grid positions determined by the FIA
Fastest Qualifier Stats
Usually, there is quite a strong link between a driver’s chance of finishing pole and them winning the race. As you can see from the table below, both Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen in recent years have a similar number of poles as they do wins. Both events did not always occur in the same race of course but it highlights that the likelihood of each event is fairly similar. Charles Leclerc makes for a very interesting outlier, however. The Monégasque driver has an impressive record in qualification, but not so much in the actual race, providing evidence that ‘qualification specialists’ can exist.
The other stat we quickly wanted to highlight was the number of individual drivers that recorded the fastest qualification time during a full season. The average over the eight-year period featured below is a bit over four drivers. This helps make it a somewhat predictable market as you can virtually discount a majority of the field before they even start driving. Of course, there will be the odd upset now and again (see Kevin Magnussen in Brazil 2022) but generally it is drivers within the top four or five in the betting that almost consistently bag pole position, particularly the top three.
There are no certainties in betting and the fastest qualifier market is no exception. No matter how good a driver’s form may be, or how fast their car is, a qualification win is never a sure thing. In fact, even the strongest qualifier, over the course of the season, will do well to secure pole position much more than half the time. The lack of consistency boils down to a few reasons, and these are factors you can (and should) research before placing your bets. Ultimately, over a single lap, there is more chance of an upset than there is over a whole race, with the possibility that an outsider produces one perfect circuit, or the favourite has an off session.
- Track History – Some drivers simply love racing at certain tracks and are less keen on others. Lewis Hamilton, for instance, is something of an expert at Hungary. In 2023, he won qualifying there despite being priced at 16/1 to do so following a 20-month pole drought. It was his ninth time doing so at the Hungaroring, the most by any driver on one track. So, by looking at a driver’s history, you can get some indication that they are likely to have a strong qualifying session
- Weather Conditions – As with the track itself, a driver’s performance can also be impacted by the weather, particularly when it is wet. Qualifying in rainy conditions poses an extra challenge and some drivers are more up for it more than others. Jenson Button is a notable and relatively recent example as his overall GP win rate was just 4.9% but 18% when competing in the rain
- Driver Form – Sometimes a driver can be in good qualification form because the previous few races have played to their strengths. In such cases, their previous success may not help them out too much for a distinctly different upcoming test. Form is not something to be dismissed though as it can be born out of adjustments to the car that have made it faster. Also, it is fair to assume that a confident driver is more likely to perform better than one who is struggling and under pressure
- Each-Way Betting – In some situations it can be a sensible option to back your fastest qualifier selection each way. Standard terms for this are the top two places at 1/3 odds. This approach is most worth considering when you think there is a decent chance your driver could narrowly end up missing out on pole. If you think this because you are torn between two drivers though, then a forecast bet will provide you with better returns
- In-Play Betting – Many bookmakers will allow you to bet on qualification as it is happening. If you are planning on watching the action live, you may want to hold-off placing your bets until you see how drivers are performing. The only trouble with this approach is that, naturally enough, drivers who look the strongest will most likely see their odds drop. That said, Q1 and Q2 performances do not always translate into strong Q3 times, particularly if rain is falling, so you may want to use the opportunity to pick a driver whose odds are increasing if you think there is something the market has missed