- "In the olden days, a gauntlet was a type of glove. Right, roboteers, I challenge you to be more interesting than that."
- — Jeremy Clarkson to The Blob
The Gauntlet was the first discipline featured in each heat of the first two series of Robot Wars. The six robots would attempt to complete an assault course or to get as far as possible in the time allowed. The robot that travelled the least distance was eliminated. In the event that all six robots completed the gauntlet, the robot that finished in the slowest time would be eliminated, although this event never arose
In Series 2, obstacles in the Gauntlet would vary per heat; however in Series 1, the course remained largely the same throughout the series. The Gauntlet provided some upsets during its run, most notably when the third seed Bodyhammer became trapped on the ramrig and was placed last, during Series 2.
The Gauntlet provided challenges that the straight-out combat battles of the later series provided- most important of which was the need for good control and manouvrability over a potent weapon. The first two disciplines of the earlier series required a reliable, powerful and manvourable machine over a destructive weapon, and consequently, on the whole, robots were far less destructive than later counterparts.
The Gauntlet was replaced after the second series, and the format was changed to an entirely combat oriented knock-out competition; however the obstacle course idea was used in the qualifiers of Series 3, where potential qualifers were made to run an assault course similar to the Gauntlet to prove their machine was sufficiently mobile to provide good television. The basic idea of an assault course was also used in Techno Games, a spin-off of Robot Wars.
Note: The route referred to as the left relates to the route on the left as seen on TV, NOT from the perspective of the robot
- "Roboteers- be prepared to amuse and impress us. But be prepared also, to be humiliated!"
- — Jeremy Clarkson
Each robot would start on a roating turntable and would then have to make a decision of which of the three routes they would take. A small spiked mace would swing back and forward over all three routes just in front of the end zone, but this had little effect, only slightly throwing robots off course in the worst circumstances, as happened to Nemesis, mainly working for atmospheric value. Of the 36 competitors to run the gauntlet during this series, 16 completed the course.
The left route was first blocked by a steel maze, a smaller version of the Labyrinth trial, which required the ability to make sharp turns. This was the least used route of the three, as it was easy to be boxed in by two house robots, and could only be attempted by relatively small, manouvrable machines; however this route was ideal for featherweights, which could turn easily within the space, due to its size. Once the maze had been cleared, the route opened up to grilles set below the arena floor (in practice the predecessor to the pit), corkscrew lances, large weights designed to slow robots down and disguised as landmines, spiked pyramids and springs, which could block the path of robots, notably Killertron.
- "You won't beat springs with a pickaxe boys!"
- — Jonathan Pearce to the Killertron team
The middle route tasked a robot with climbing over a seesaw ramp, negotiating the corkscrew lances and make its way over a second, static, ramp that billowed smoke from the middle. Robots could move from this route into the left-hand route, and vice versa, as the two routes merge towards the end. Robots with a low ground clearance struggled with this route, such as when Vector of Armageddon became stuck on the second ramp, placing it last in Heat D.
The route on the right was much clearer of obstacles, although it was patrolled by the House Robots, making it arguably the most difficult route of the three. Skittles and tank traps also featured in this route, but these both were little more than cosmetics, as well as a grille near the beginning of the course, which trapped the heaviest robot in Series 1, Barry, and although it escaped, contributed to its elimination.
- "It's fine when you watch someone else do it, but when you've got to do it, you just think "I want to go home"."
- — Chris Weeks of Tantrum
In a change from the previous series, each robot would start in three-sided pen instead of the turntable, although robots such as Spin Doctor were too large for the pen and started just outside it instead, and once again had a choice of three routes to choose from. This series, the course varied in obstacles for each different heat.
In the heats, 21 out of 72 robots completed the course, and during the Semi-Finals, 4 out of 12 robots completed the course.
- "If they've got the guts, or maybe stupidity, to take on Sir Killalot, they'll take the route on my left"
- — Phillipa Forrester
The left route took over from the right route of the previous series in that it was a largely dead space that was guarded by the house robots. During the first half of the series, this route was either patrolled by Sir Killalot or occasionally two of the other house robots; however from Heat G onwards, with the exception of Heat J, The Sentinel guarded this route with the help of another House Robot, usually Dead Metal. Also featured in this route was the newly introduced Pit of Oblivion, which would later become a staple of Robot Wars. This route remained unchanged for the semi-finals, save for the fact that the Sentinel now had a greater degree of freedom.
The centre route was perhaps the most adaptable of all, featuring a who host of different obstacles. The first obstacle a robot would face alternated between a Breezeblock wall and spikes, with a wall of barrels and another ramrig making one appearence each. The spikes proved the far easier to clear than the breezeblocks, which stopped many robots dead in their tracks. The next obstacle in the path of a robot was either a static ramp or a see-saw, as well as either a house robot or the Sphere, on occasion both. During the semi-finals, this route featured both ramps positioned side by side, the static ramp was guarded by the Sentinel, who now had a 360 degree radius for attack, as well as a pit, and additional protection from the House Robots. This was the most popular route during this series.
The route on the right was dominated by the Ramrig which would ram a robot into the angle grinders positioned opposite, as happened to Panic Attack during the first semi-final. If the robot managed to get past this, they would then have to beat a House Robot, as well as avoid the flame pit and tank traps. During later episodes a large spiked pendulum blocked the path after the Ramrig. This route remained unchanged for the semi-finals, except that the large sphere blocked the ramrig during the first semi-final, but was not there during the second semi-final.
- Of a total 120 Gauntlet runs, 41 were completed, almost exactly 1 in 3, or 2 per episode.
- The worst performing robot in the Gauntlet was Caliban, who cleared just 0.2m during the first heat of the second series, and the best performing robot was Demolisher, who completed the Gauntlet in just nine seconds during Heat D of the First Wars, although interviews later in the episode seem to imply it took longer than shown on TV.
- Four robots: Dreadnaut, Roadblock, Mortis and Nemesis have completed the Gauntlet twice, and none of them took the same route on both of their succesful runs.
- During the 20 programmes that the Gauntlet was run, only twice did no robot complete it, and never did more than half the field complete it