Categories: News

F1 sport: what does the new format of sprint races bring?

The F1 calendar includes six sprint weekends this season. After the first of them, in Baku,

Auto Plus evaluates the positives and negatives of this concept, which presents some adjustments this year.

G. CACACE/AFP

Lhe promoters of Formula 1 inaugurated the concept of the sprint during the 2021 season. These short races, contested on Saturdays over 100 km, make it possible to spice up Formula 1 weekends, to shake up habits and break a certain hum . From three sprints in 2021 and 2022, the organizers have gone to six this year. Just days before the 2023 season premiere, the scheme was changed. From now on, this race is separate from the Grand Prix. It has its own qualifying session on Saturday morning, and its result no longer determines the starting grid on Sunday. In Azerbaijan, the results were rather disappointing, with a monotonous sprint race and almost identical results on Saturday and Sunday.

THE POSITIVE POINTS

The presence of sporting challenges every day, from Friday to Sunday, is the main interest of sprint weekends. This was already the case in previous years. Friday features an hour of qualifying in the afternoon, instead of an often dull and boring second free session. By doing away with free practice on Saturday morning this year and replacing it with another qualifying session to determine the sprint grid, the organizers are making a morning attractive which, until then, was only useful for engineers to understand the tire wear. “Qualifying is always exciting, says Lewis Hamilton, so it’s great to have two sessions in the weekend. » Knowing how to be fast as soon as you wake up is a real challenge for pilots. “Saturday is interesting, because the day begins with a qualification without having driven before, comments Esteban Ocon.

From the first round, you have to be at 100%. ”

The other side of the coin is that with a single one-hour session to establish the settings for the whole weekend, the risks of making mistakes increase. In Baku, Alpine was the most blatant example: starting in a bad technical direction, the French team was never able to rectify the situation. “ We have fewer laps to be comfortable in our riding, explains Nico Hülkenberg, the Haas driver, and engineers have less time to analyze technical data and assess tire longevity. But it’s the same constraint for everyone. ” This parameter adds uncertainty and possibly allows the hierarchy to be upset. If the sprint thus adds pressure on the engineers as much as on the pilots, it intensifies the spectacle.

From now on, the result of the sprint no longer determines the starting grid of the Grand Prix, which is constituted by the qualification on Friday. “I like this new format, enthuses Pierre Gasly, because it brings more action during the sprint than in previous years. The fact that this race has no impact on the Grand Prix on Sunday will allow us to have a more aggressive approach. ” The Frenchman speaks knowingly. He was sixth on the sprint grid at Monza in 2021, but a collision on the first lap forced him to start last in the Grand Prix on Sunday. The very muscular first lap during the Baku sprint between Max Verstappen and George Russell might have been wiser if the two drivers risked a start at the back of the grid for the Grand Prix. There, only one thing motivated them: to score points [attribués du premier au huitième, NDLR].

POINTS TO IMPROVE

The sprint qualifications are shorter than the classic session, while maintaining the three-segment elimination format. Drivers only have one set of tires for each phase. The regulations require new tires to be fitted. First medium tires for Q1 and Q2, then soft ones for the last phase, Q3, bringing together the ten fastest. In Baku, Lando Norris no longer had new soft tyres, so he couldn’t take to the track in Q3. An aberrant situation. For the others, a single set of tires allows only one real attempt against the clock. Even if all the pilots tried to complete a second lap, with more or less success, the positions were fixed. But since the sprint format is intended to be innovative, why not be radical and organize this qualification with a single lap for each driver? There would be no room for error, and this would perhaps make it possible to obtain a grid for the sprint different from that of the Grand Prix. Because, in Baku, there were many similarities: Leclerc in pole position ahead of two Red Bulls, Sainz and Hamilton in the top 6, the Aston Martins in the top ten, etc.

Two qualifications, and therefore two pole positions, two races with potentially two winners, that’s enough to generate incomprehension for the general public, who no longer know what really matters. Be aware that neither victories nor sprint poles are counted in the statistics.

X. BONILLA/DPPI

DPPI

THE NEGATIVE POINTS

If the first eight are fighting for points in the sprint, behind them, finishing ninth or twentieth does not change anything, since the result no longer affects the starting grid of the Grand Prix, unlike the previous two seasons. This new rule certainly allows you to attack without a second thought, but it does not prevent you from thinking and considering that taking the risk of breaking a car to gain nothing is not necessarily a good idea, especially in this era. limited budget.

Historically, a Formula 1 weekend is built day by day. Its development follows a progression. Free practice to work on Friday, qualifying on Saturday with the optimal potential of men and machines, then Grand Prix on Sunday. The sprint format breaks this path with its separate Saturday day. If you’re only interested in the classic Grand Prix, watch Friday’s qualifying and then come back on Sunday for the race. This disconcerting rhythm breaks the habits of viewers. In addition, the regulations, which require the settings to be frozen after the only free practice session on Friday, tend to freeze the hierarchy. The best car on Friday will remain so on Saturday for the sprint, and on Sunday for the Grand Prix. Eventually, the desired surprise effect disappears in reality. This is Max Verstappen’s main criticism of the sprint. The double world champion is only 25 years old, but he asserts himself as a leader defending the tradition of the discipline. “What was magical when I watched F1 as a child was that in qualifying a driver took pole, other teams were slower, but you didn’t know what could happen in the race, explains the Dutchman. When we woke up on Sunday morning, we couldn’t wait to see what would happen. We were excited as we sat down in front of the TV. With the sprint, we already know what to expect for the Grand Prix. If there is no incident on Sunday, we have a clear idea of ​​what will happen and of the eventual winner. ” In Baku, it was Sergio Pérez, Saturday and Sunday, accompanied each time on the podium by Verstappen and Leclerc, who just reversed their positions.

PANORAMIC

CONCLUSION

There are five sprints left this season (Austria, Belgium, Qatar, United States, Brazil) to convince the skeptics. The intentions of the F1 promoter remain unclear, while Moto GP is organizing a sprint every weekend this season. “ I am happy with the format change on Saturday, observe Charles Leclerc, on the other hand, I hope that it will remain only on five or six Grands Prix in the future. I do not want this to become the standard in a few years. ”

A rollback for 2024, with only three sprints as in previous years, cannot be ruled out. The reluctance of the teams towards these additional races which increase the risk of damage and therefore of costs, as well as the desire to sell the sprints to the countries with the highest bids could encourage them to reduce the number of them, because, as the saying goes, “this which is rare is expensive”.

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