The Formula One Sprint first introduced in 2021 has proven to be a divisive subject amongst drivers, team bosses and the sports pundits alike. In its initial format the Sprint grid was set on Friday afternoon in place of Free practice two then the starting positions for the Grand Prix decided by classified positions after the shorter race held on Saturday afternoon.
Given the cars were in parc ferme they could not be adjusted after the Friday qualifying session, this demoted the Saturday morning practice from one where a refined setup could not be implemented and the teams merely tested to the tyre degradation of their cars for the race.
F1 Sprint changes for 2023
A late rule change this season saw the format altered significantly. Now following just one practice session on Friday morning, qualifying for the Grand Prix is held in the afternoon.
Saturday is “Sprint day” a stand alone event where the grid is set during the morning session and the short version of the Grand Prix run in the afternoon.
The reasoning behind the Sprint is to deliver on each of the three days at least one on track competitive session which assists in the sale of the tickets for the race promoters for Friday.
Further, TV audiences for Friday have improved given qualifying for the big event on Sunday is decided then.
Parc Ferme rules too restrictive
Yet the notion that the setup of the F1 cars is locked in for the weekend after just one practice session has been criticised in various quarters. Clearly this benefits this big teams who have greater analysis and ‘back at base’ simulation capabilities but there appears an opportunity for F1 to change all this as David Croft suggests to the Sky F1 podcast.
“I think the sprint concept is good, I like it,” he said.
“But I don’t like it being part of the World Championship. I like two separate World Championships. Have your sprint day on a Friday, maybe, rather than a Saturday.”
Croft advocates a short warm up on Friday before Sprint qualifying with the race in the afternoon. Then there would be a proper practice session on Saturday morning where the teams can adjust their cars setup before Grand Prix qualifying in the afternoon.
Driver’s critical of Sprint
“Then the cars are not in parc ferme for the rest of the weekend. Then you have your practice session on the Saturday morning, Saturday qualifying, race on Sunday. So you’re keeping the two very separate, for different world championships.”
A number of driver’s including Max Verstappen has been highly critical of the change in the weekend’s format believing the historic three practice sessions, qualifying and then the Grand Prix is a better way of running the weekend.
Verstappen had a difficult first Sprint of 2023 having qualified only in third place, he clashed with George Russell during the opening lap which left his RB19 significantly damaged.
The world champion recovered and passed his Mercedes rival but could only finish the race in P3. In the post race conference Verstappen vented his spleen over the whole F1 Sprint concept.
Verstappen: “Scrap the whole thing”
“Just scrap the whole thing,” Verstappen said angrily when asked for his thoughts on the format.
“I think it’s just important to go back to what we had and make sure that every team can fight for the win, that’s what we have to try and aim for [rather than] trying to implement all these kinds of artificial excitement.”
Max argues that two qualifying sessions each weekend devalues the efforts it takes to claim a pole position.
“I got bored through today’s qualifying. I like to have one particular qualifying where you just put everything in it, which was yesterday which I of course enjoyed. But then we had to do it again today.
“I was like ‘my God, another qualifying’. I just don’t really enjoy that.”
Perez wants minimal Sprint races
Despite winning the sprint event, Sergio Perez stated the majority of Grand Prix weekends should remain as they were. The spectre of F1 CEO Stefano Donenicali hangs low over the paddock given he believes each F1 weekend should include the Sprint.
“We don’t want this to become a standard weekend,” Perez said.
The Mexican driver also commented on the rules which prevented Lando Norris from taking part in final qualifying as each driver must save a new tyre for each of the Sprint qualifying sessions. Norris had now new soft to use and was therefore forced to sit out the final qualifying runs.
However, David Croft’s suggestion may well have some merit but for an entirely different reason. Formula One has in recent years struggled to integrate rookies into the sport given the huge step up it is from the junior Formula.
F1 Sprint a separate championship
Over the past few seasons, the teams are required to give two Friday practice sessions to a driver with less than 3 Grand Prix starts experience, but this has done little to prepare them for the full time arrival into Formula One.
With the Sprint becoming a separate championship, it would allow drivers like Verstappen to sit out the event and provide an opportunity for a junior to compete for real in a current F1 car.
In reality, this is unlikely to happen given the likes of Verstappen would lose crucial track time by opting out of the Sprint Saturday to familiarise himself with his car for the Grand Prix on Sunday.
Should the FIA want to open up the opportunity for junior drivers, the Sprint championship cold be exclusively for them forcing each team to field two rookies several times a year.
Rookie drivers get more F1 experience
Again this too may be a bridge too far for the teams given rookies crash cars more often than their more experienced counterparts and so could compromise the rest of the weekend for the regular F1 drivers.
Yet even were half the Sprint weekends mandated for rookie drivers, this would bridge the gulf between junior drivers and their F1 careers. This is something the FIA has struggled to find a solution to since the restriction of in season testing of the current year’s Formula One cars.
In yesteryear and F1 team may take two days at Silverstone during the week to run a car for a promising rookie. Now there is little basis for their evaluation except from how they perform in F2/3.
The FIA is considering how the bridge from junior formula to F1 can be bridged more effectively and by including the junior drivers in the Sprint championship is potentially the best solution on offer at present.
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