Sprint Qualifying is Coming to F1, Whether the Teams Like It Or Not

Sprint Qualifying is Coming to F1, Whether the Teams Like It Or Not

03/31/2021

Formula 1 is off until April 18, when the series races at Imola, Italy, but that doesn’t mean F1 leaders aren’t planning on starting something rather big in the coming days.

More to the point, F1 is expected to announce how they want to start something, namely a few Grands Prix. In an effort to spice up the weekends, the series plans to include Sprint Qualifying into three race weekends as a trial balloon for a new, and hopefully more exciting qualifying format. It’s all about improving those made-for-TV and made-for-the-fans-in-the-stand ratings.

Mercedes officials, while not ready to block the idea, continue to hope that Formula 1 treads lightly into a format that could be considered a gimmick by some, and a major tax on money, manpower and equipment to others.

I think probably we share the mindset that we are racing purists and we know of the importance of the Grand Prix,” said Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff during the recently concluded F1 Bahrain Grand Prix weekend. “It’s always been like that and we must not dilute the attraction of that singular event happening Sunday afternoon as somehow a cornerstone of everybody’s weekend.

“Now, we have always been very reluctant to change that traditional format and I have seen some experiments in other race series where they have put in a second race on Saturday and the audiences were actually quite interested. Having said that, it by far didn’t have the importance and tradition like Formula 1, so we need to be really careful of how we are testing things.”

Wolff is also concerned that the sprint format, which calls for a 30-minute race on Saturday (about 1/3 of a full Grand Prix) to replace traditional qualifying. While the format has yet to be confirmed, it is like that championship points will be awarded to top qualifiers in an effort to keep things competitive and to help ensure a good show for the fans.

The Sprint Qualifying format is not expected to included any kind of reverse grid, where the fastest qualifiers based on the sprint race would actually start the main event from the back on Sunday in an effort to improve the Sunday show.

“We are in a data-driven world,” Wolf said. “We simulate, and here we are talking about going live with something that hasn’t been simulated properly. So, I don’t think we want to block anything—it’s worth the experiment—but we need to be very careful with it, with the format that we have and with the responsibility we carry for Formula 1.”

Sprint Qualifying, as it is going to be called, is slated to go live, without a trial, likely during race weekends at Silverstone, Monza and Brazil. The F1 Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal is another site that could be on the final list of three race weekends to use the format.

“A mixed opinion,” Red Bull’s Christian Horner said. “It’s something that the commercial rights holder (Liberty Media) is keen on and I think, if you don’t try things, you never know. And so, I think we’re keen to try to support the commercial rights holder in having a look at it.

“I don’t see much downside in trying a few times, and potentially there’s a lot of upside …”

“Is the format right? I mean, it could just be a static Saturday race that creates a static Sunday race. But it’s another start, there’s more jeopardy, etcetera, etcetera. I think we have to give it a go. We’re interested to look at it, but what we can’t ignore is that, to run and operate these cars is extremely expensive and we need to find a solution how to combat that, in particular in a season where the budget cap is having a significant impact on how we operate.”

Count McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown in.

“I think there’s general support among all the teams,” Brown said. “The commercial rights holder wants to do it. I don’t see much downside in trying a few times, and potentially there’s a lot of upside if it’s very exciting and, if it doesn’t work, we’ll maybe try something else in the future and not move forward.

“We’re supportive of giving it a go.”

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