Formula One is now in its third year of the Sprint race weekend and this year the number of events were extended from the original three per year to six. Further, following the first race weekend in Bahrain FOM pushed the teams hard to accept a new format which included a standalone Sprint qualifying session on Saturday morning to replace practice two.
The latest event in COTA proved to be a flop as far as the race was concerned, with little overtaking and the standout moment being lap one turn one.
Sprint lacked excitement
There Charles Leclerc attempted to overtake Verstappen down the inside, but the world champion defended every inch of the circuit which allowed Lewis Hamilton to steal the Ferrari drivers second place.
Verstappen was criticised in some quarters of the media for pushing the limits as LecLerc’s Ferrari was almost forced onto the grass, however the matter was treated as a first lap incident by the stewards and no further action was taken.
While Lewis Hamilton managed to hang on to the Red Bull’s coat tails for several laps, it quickly became evident the RB19 had far superior pace and Max disappeared into the distance winning the one third Grand Prix Sprint by almost 9 seconds.
What was unforeseen at the time was due to just one practice on Friday, four cars elected to start the Grand Prix on Sunday from the pit lane having felt it necessary to make significant changes to their car setup given poor performances in the Saturday sessions.
Restricted practice causes errors
Further, the lack of practice time saw Mercedes fail to simulate a full fuel run, which ultimately meant they had no idea the effect this would have on their ride height during the Grand Prix. Of course their car was too low and they were penalised with the disqualification of Lewis Hamilton for excessive wear on the underfloor plank.
Ex-F1 driver and TV expert commentator Martin Rundle believes the current format of Sprint weekends is unacceptable, writing in his column this week:
“There’s no doubt that the Sprint format events put the teams under a lot of pressure and overall, we don’t get particularly positive feedback from them.
“With just one practice session before the specification and set-up is locked in by parc ferme rules, especially at a relatively unknown circuit like Losail in Qatar, or a bumpy circuit such as COTA in Austin, this leaves them underprepared, which is far from ideal with such complex cars.”
“Jeopardy” of Sprint questioned
Of course with just one practice session run on Friday morning, the track temperatures are usually not representative of those the teams experience during the Sprint race and the Grand Prix. This further muddies the waters for the engineers.
“And there’s the first question: do we want the jeopardy and variability of some teams missing their ultimate pace, or is this wasting the resource and skills of teams and drivers in a ‘not very F1’ manner?” Brundle adds.
“We had 20 percent of the field starting the main Sunday race from the pit lane, in the form of both Aston Martins and both Haas cars, because they were better breaking out of parc ferme and trying for a more competitive race set-up.
“And from Friday afternoon onwards, with two qualifying sessions and two races to come, some drivers were consigned to a difficult car for the rest of the weekend.
F1 Paddock divided over Sprint weekends
“This is not ideal or necessary, and while I don’t like us to keep messing with the format, we must make some changes for next season and beyond. It’s too much of a lottery which has far-reaching consequences, as we would find out several hours after the Sunday GP.”
The Sprint has caused controversy within the F1 paddock with reigning world champion describing it previously as “Micky Mouse.”
However, even traditionalists like Brundle have admitted they would prefer to watch a competitive on track session rather than just practice.
Formula One Sprint weekends tend to have better ticket sales for the Friday’s even two practice sessions are replaced by one which is competitive and has a bearing on Sunday’s Grand Prix.
Too many F1 weekend formats
Despite expressing his favour towards the Sprint, Brundle agrees,“Max has a fair point that the Sprint gives you half the story for race day and takes away some anticipation. I’d still much rather watch a Sprint than a free practice session personally.
“Another issue is that we currently have three different event tyre allocation scenarios, two different qualifying formats, and two different race formats.
“Teams and media alike have to keep refreshing their memories on the ramifications each weekend – and so what chance do the fans have of remembering it all?”
A standard F1 weekend allows the drivers 13 sets of dry tyres. A Sprint weekend reduced this to twelve and the alternative tyre allocation weekend means they have just 11 sets to manage across the entire weekend.
Better ways to get FIA “sustainability” targets
Whilst the FIA’s push for reduced wastage and net carbon. Zero is admirable, many believe allowing the drivers sufficient tyres to spend most of each session on track is preferable for the fans and there should be other ways of reducing wastage.
Lewis Hamilton has been most vocal on this suggesting the almost “never used” extreme wet tyres should be ditched and that alone would save more tyres than either of the current alternative formates where less than thirteen dry tyres are allocated to each driver.
Further, the choice of Sprint venue is important given some circuits do not lend themselves to this shortened version f racing as was demonstrated in COTA.
However, because F1 had not brought their support series F2/F3, this was a way t compensate the promoters by delivering competitive F1 on track action each day of the event.
MORE F1 NEWS: Verstappen lodges complaint of COTA organisers
The Circuit of the America’s was for a number of years the jewel in the crown for Formula One in the United States of America. Tavo Helmund announced in July 2010 the plans for the site in Travis County and in November 2012 the first race was held with just 117,000 spectators in attendance for the entire weekend.
The popularity of the circuit and the event has grown over 11 years and this year saw a record crowd of 445,000 fans attend the…READ MORE ON THIS STORY