- "In the olden days, a gauntlet was a type of glove. Right, roboteers, I challenge you to be more interesting than that."
- — Jeremy Clarkson prior to The Blob's Gauntlet run
The Gauntlet was the first discipline featured in the first two series of Robot Wars. Taking place in the heats and the Series 2 Semi-Finals, six robots per episode would attempt to complete an assault course featuring numerous obstacles and House Robots, or to get as far into the course as possible within the time limit. 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 never happened.
The Gauntlet was intended to serve as a test of control and maneouvrability for competitors, two factors which would become essential for succeeding in the later Arena stages. In Series 1, the Gauntlet course would remain largely the same throughout the series; in Series 2, however, the obstacles featured on the course would vary between episodes.
Throughout its run, The Gauntlet would offer several surprising moments during its run, most notably the elimination of the third seed Bodyhammer in Heat D of Series 2, and the Race-Off between Mace and Panic Attack in the first Semi-Final of the same series.
Both the Gauntlet and Trial stages were retired after Series 2, with the show's format changing to an entirely combat-focused knockout tournament for Series 3 onwards. However, an assault course still formed part of the Series 3 auditions, where it was used to showcase potential competitors' control and mobility prior to their selection for the main series. The basic idea of an assault course was also later used in one of the events from the spin-off show, Techno Games.
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 its run on a rotating turntable, and upon driving off it would have a choice of three routes to take. The end zone was patrolled by one of the House Robots, which had the freedom to block competitors from completing the course. A small spiked mace also swung back and forth across all three routes, although it merely served as an atmosphere feature.
Of the 36 competitors to run the Gauntlet during Series 1, 16 successfully completed the course, almost half of the Series 1 entries.
The left-hand route began with a steel maze, a smaller version of that found in the Labyrinth trial. Robots were required to perform sharp turns as they negotiated through the maze, and avoid a grille at the end. Beyond the maze, the route offered a wide variety of obstacles, including corkscrew lances, two more grilles, large weights disguised as 'landmines', and springs attached to the floor, all designed to block and divert the robot's path.
Once negotiated, robots had to drive past a House Robot and over a set of floor spikes, before reaching the end zone. The left-hand route was particularly suited to robots with low turning circles and high top speeds, which made it a popular choice for lighter weight category robots (especially featherweights). However, its wide variety of obstacles, and the possibility of House Robots blocking the maze (as shown by Scrapper's run in Heat B), made it relatively less popular with larger competitors.
The middle route began with a seesaw ramp, before robots were required to negotiate past the corkscrew lances and drive over a second, static ramp that billowed smoke from the centre. At this point, the route merged with the left and right-hand routes, allowing robots to cross over to either of the other routes from the second ramp onwards. While offering robots the lowest chance of being intercepted by the House Robots, it was still possible for a House Robot from the right-hand route to cross over into the centre route and impede a competitor's progress from time to time. Additionally the route proved especially problematic for robots with low ground clearances, such as Vector of Armageddon, which was unable to clear the second ramp during its run in Heat D.
The right-hand route lacked any major obstacles, but was patrolled by two or three House Robots, making it arguably the most difficult route to negotiate. Smaller obstacles such as spiked pyramids and skittles were also scattered along this route, as well as a grille which was located near the beginning of the route. The grille was particularly effective in stranding robots that drove over or were pushed onto them, such as Barry and Torque of the Devil, and played a crucial part in the former's elimination from Heat A.
- "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 a three-sided pen instead of the turntable. Some robots, such as Spin Doctor, were too large to fit inside the pen, so they started just outside it instead. As before, robots had a choice of three routes to negotiate, each with different hazards and obstacles to clear, which varied between each episode the Gauntlet was featured in.
In the heats, 21 out of 72 robots completed the Gauntlet course. During the Semi-Finals, four out of the twelve Semi-Finalists 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."
- — Philippa Forrester
The left-hand route was similar in nature to the right-hand route from the previous series, lacking any major obstacles aside from one or two pits and one or more of the House Robots (usually Sir Killalot) occupying the route. This marked the first usage of the Pit of Oblivion, a hazard which would later become a staple of Robot Wars.
From Heat G onwards, with the exception of Heat J, The Sentinel occupied this route with the help of another House Robot, usually Dead Metal. The Sentinel was intended to block competitors, pin them against the wall or steer them into one of the pits, making the route considerably more hazardous in later episodes. In the Semi-Finals, The Sentinel received additional modifications which allowed its arm to perform extra movements, including the ability to swing a full 360 degrees. This enabled The Sentinel to occupy both the left-hand and centre routes at this stage.
The centre route was the most popular route in Series 2 and with perhaps the most changes across the whole series. Obstacles varied regularly between episodes, which included a wall of breezeblocks or barrels, sets of floor spikes, a Ramrig, a see-saw or static ramp, a large sphere and at least one House Robot. Competitors were required to knock down the wall of breezeblocks/barrels or negotiate the ramrig before driving over the see-saw, as well as resist the House Robots' attacks and negotiate past them on their way to the end zone.
For the Semi-Finals, the centre route underwent many significant changes, with both a see-saw and a static ramp being positioned on either side of a pit located in the centre. The static ramp was guarded by The Sentinel, which had the capacity to block and steer competitors into the pit from the raised platform. As before, the House Robots would usually attempt to impede competitors as they negotiated over the see-saw, often attacking or pitting them in the process. A wall of breezeblocks was re-added to the route for Semi-Final 2, joined by a large sphere which could be pushed into the pit.
The right-hand route was dominated by the Ramrig, which would push robots that attempted to drive through it into the angle grinders positioned on the opposite side. Robots with particularly poor control or low ground clearances had a higher tendency of getting stuck on the Ramrig, such as Bodyhammer in Heat D and Panic Attack in the first Semi-Final. If the robot managed to clear the Ramrig, they would then have to drive past a House Robot, as well as avoid the Flame Pit and spiked pyramids on their way to the end zone. In later episodes, the path immediately after the Ramrig was also blocked by a large spiked pendulum, while a sphere was also added for Semi-Final 1 only. Other than these alterations, the right-hand route remained largely unchanged throughout the series.
- Out of a total of 120 Gauntlet runs, 41 were completed, almost exactly a third of all runs and amounting to two per episode.
- Four robots - Dreadnaut, Roadblock, Mortis and Nemesis - have completed the Gauntlet twice. Out of these four, only Mortis took the same route on both of its successful runs.
- During the 20 episodes that the Gauntlet took place in, only two saw none of the competing robots successfully completing it.
- The Gauntlet appears as one of the 'Trials' challenges in the game Robot Wars: Metal Mayhem, despite that game being based on Series 3.