The much debated new format for the Formula One Sprint weekends was agreed last night by the World Motorsport Council. Liberty Media’s F1 supremo, Stefano Domenicali, has been twisting arms since the season began in Bahrain in an attempt to bypass the regular process for approving rule changes.
The Sprint format has divided opinion since its introduction for the 2021 season. It was the result of a compromise between those who wished to retain the Grand Prix weekend formatted those who wished to abandon Friday sessions in favour of just a two day event with competitive track action on each day.
Concerns Sprint could influence title
The concerns from the F1 traditionalists was that the Sprint would impinge on the integrity of the drivers’ championship and so just three events were agreed for 2021 with minimal points awarded for just the top three places.
The lack of a real reward meant the inaugural season’s Sprint events were on the whole rather ‘steady away.’ Drivers and teams weren’t prepared to risk too much for such a small reward when the Lion’s share of the prize remained to be won on a Sunday.
Clearly the Sprint’s of 2021 were not the talk of the season and the drivers’ championship was decided in another far more controversial manner.
This meant for year two, Domenicali was able to find agreement to increase the points awarded on Saturday together with the number of points scoring places.
Agreement that Saturday practice ‘pointless’
A Sprint in 2022 saw the winner now receive 8 points with 7 for P2 all the way down to 1 for P8. Again the championship was not decided by a Sprint event so the opportunity to tinker with the weekend format grew again.
For 2023 the number of Sprint events was doubled to six with the first being this weekend in Baku.
Both F1 traditionalists and Sprint enthusiasts have become aligned over the fact that with qualifying on Friday afternoon and the fact the cars are in parc ferme and cannot be altered for the remainder of the weekend, the Saturday morning practice has been neutered.
Yet no agreement was found to this conundrum before the Sporting rules for 2023 were finalised by the FIA.
Leaked Ferrari options: Sainz ‘the chop’ – Hamilton the target
Pole position returned to proper status
So to the surprise of many it emerged in Australia that there were moves afoot from Domenicali to scrap the Saturday practice session for the upcoming race in Azerbaijan.
However, the teams have been persuaded it is a good idea to replace the Saturday practice with a qualifying session to set the grid for the Sprint in the afternoon.
Friday qualifying is now for the Grand Prix on Sunday and pole position for the record books will be from this afternoon session.
The speed of this in season significant change to the regulations has taken many by surprise and as yet the nature of the horse trading required to make it happen is unclear.
Further changes temporary
In the sub text is another power grab from behind the scenes which now in effect excludes the teams’ input into any further tweaks to the next two Sprint events.
The World Motorsport Council (WMSC) approved a rule book change which allows for further changes to be made “in exceptional circumstances” by the FIA without first referencing the F1 commission and the teams.
There are five clauses and they each relate to Sprint regulations in order to “address unintended issues that have arisen as result of the changes to these Sporting Regulations approved by the WMSC in April 2023” and “must be solely intended to ensure sporting fairness or to avoid organisational issues”.
Any further changes will be temporary in nature and will require agreement from the WMSC to be permanently included in the rule book.
Ferrari brain drain with SHOCK resignation
Just 5 teams now required to agree
Yet interestingly any temporary changes instigated by the FIA will not be voted upon by the F1 commission before the WMSC potentially rules them to be permanent.
The rules changes can only be made “with the agreement of the FIA, the Commercial Rights Holder [Liberty Media] and five competitors.”
All the teams will be notified of any such changes in the notes form the race director issued prior to each events.
Further, the dispensation for the FIA to tinker further with the Sprint weekend rules is limited until August 1st. This covers the first three Sprint events in Baku this weekend, then in Austria and at Spa-Francorchamps in July.
While all this is limited to Sprint weekend regulation tinkering, an interesting precedent may have been set, which allows other rule changes with just the agreement of five of the teams rather than the entire grid.
READ MORE: Haas F1 boss questions Magnussen’s future
Never leave the garage without your gloves and steering wheel! 😆#AzerbaijanGP #F1 pic.twitter.com/naD7PwwoAr
— Formula 1 (@F1) April 23, 2023
So – a MAJORITY agreement by the teams is not required? Surely a democratic system of voting would be preferable?