DTM’s audience boost shows why F1 needs to try sprint races – Wolff

2021 F1 season

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Formula 1 needs to experiment with Saturday sprint races as other series which introduced similar formats attracted significantly larger audiences, says Mercedes CEO Toto Wolff.

The championship is considering whether to experiment with a different format at three rounds on the 2021 F1 calendar. Under the proposal qualifying would move forward to Friday at those events and set the starting order for a short sprint race – potentially known as ‘Super Qualifying’ – on Saturday, which would decide the grid for Sunday’s grand prix.

Wolff previously criticised a similar proposal under which the sprint races would have started with the drivers in reverse championship order. He believes the revised plan strikes a better balance between creating a more exciting show and preserving F1’s sporting integrity.

“Reverse grids have no place in any sport that is based on measuring and competing in the true sense of sport,” said Wolff.

“We are entertainment, but the moment you slide into show and Hollywood you will lose a lot of credibility of the sport overall. So not every decision that aims to increase the entertainment factor is right for Formula 1. It always needs to be balanced between the DNA of true sports – best man and best machine wins – and what the fans like to see.”

Start, Brands Hatch, DTM, 2018
The DTM has held two races per weekend since 2015
Wolff said the introduction of extra races in the DTM, Germany premier touring car series, increased viewership of the sport and shows how grand prix weekends could become more lucrative.

“The sprint races are an interesting format, in my opinion, and an experiment which I believe we need to do. I’ve seen in other racing series, in DTM, that the audiences almost doubled with having a Saturday and Sunday race. And that obviously can be monetised.

“I think if we were to do this without some interference to create a fake show it has merit to try. I’m not sure that we like the outcome because qualifying how we have it today is real qualifying and in a sprint there is always the risk of damage that can be costly and has obviously a huge impact on Sunday’s grid and the ability to perform [in the race]. And for sure it’s going to create controversy too.

“But giving it a try for three races in 2021 in the right framework, we would be up for it.”

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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33 comments on “DTM’s audience boost shows why F1 needs to try sprint races – Wolff”

  1. DTM started sprintraces in 2002, small leap forward by 2018 articles showed up in the media that DTM was close to being dead and buried. So much so they had to change their entire technical format to appeal to a new audience and competitors.

    If anything DTM shows how mismanaged it has been, and the parallels in that sense are quite similar to F1.
    Stop mismanagement through gimmicks should be the lesson learned from DTM.

  2. Sigh… I’m getting too old to discuss the same thing over and over while they do whatever they want…

    1. Same here. Can we just shut up about this topic and perform the try outs. This site sounds like a .. oh no cant say that or a whole group will feel insulted (which happens so easy these days)

    2. Yep.

      DTM gets viewers from non-F1 or major motorsport weekends, plus it’s generally free-to-air on Youtube as most why series.

      The spectacle is nowhere near it was in the early-2000’s and as much as one loves motorsport, one half-watches it in the background like a pop music on my car radio.

      1. The « why » series is misspelled « GT » series, anyway it has to be created.

    3. Coventry Climax
      3rd March 2021, 13:11

      Exactly. This is just a case of: “Was it as good for you as it was for me, Toto?” “Oh yes, Stefano”.

  3. As someone pointed out elsewhere, in the longer run, not sure that worked out for DTM, losing manufacturers and having trouble staying alive at all.

    1. Though that wasn’t connected to the race format but a problem all series face which rely only on manufacturer entries. In fact DTM has gone from just two different car models last year to at least five for this year.

      1. Yeah, but its also effectively changed from a Touring Car series to a GT championship

        1. That is officially true but in reality it has been a GT series being called a touring car series for many years.

          1. Fair point. Its sad that DTM has gone the way it has, but it was just too expensive for too long. I just hope history doesn’t repeat with F1 should another manufacturer (specifically engines) leave.

          2. Technically the Class One Touring Cars are prototypes and far superior to a GT car. It’s what made DTM unique (apart from Super GT) but probably also alot more expensive to develop and run, which ultimately led to their demise.

          3. Indeed @d0senbrot
            The other thing that makes Super GT work that assisted in DTM’s failure was the multi-class racing system.
            Super GT wouldn’t be half as good with only Class One cars, and would likely suffer the same fate as DTM.

      2. All good points @unitedkingdomracing, @d0senbrot and @eurobrun, though it remains the case that it then clearly didn’t add, long term, much if anything to solving the problem the series had, of expensive cars with limited amount of ways for teams/manufacturers to recoup those costs. I do see that for F1, with bigger, worldwide-ish audience, the calculation might be different, but my point was that the argument wasn’t very valid then.

        1. While it is certainly true that DTM has long been far more towards relatively high tech and running cars that were probably closer to GT cars than regular touring cars, It’s pretty clear that in the last 20 or so years the series has seen its support dwindle more and more.

  4. Quite obvious that the winning team wants to win more and have it televised. The narrative that they are pushing for sprint races “for the fans” is falling flat on its face. Why not just admit that you are wanting this solely to expand your advertising platform?

    1. Yeah because all motorsports all along has never depended on revenues from advertising/marketing.

  5. I’m sorry Toto, but its apples and oranges.
    – DTM was a glorified domestic series with a limited audience. No one watched DTM qualifying, so changing the format worked for them, because they had nothing to lose. But that series imploded after Mercedes left… good omens!
    – F1 is the biggest motor series in the world and has millions tune in for Qualifying specifically because it is qualifying.
    Yes more people tune in for the race, but would more tune in for this sprint race?
    Maybe for the first one, to see what the fuss is about. Example, call me cynical but…
    I was dead against the Elimination Qualifying embarrassment, however I got up early to watch the first one (Aus) live, specifically to see just how bad it was, so that I could accurately discuss it.
    I chose not to watch the 2nd attempt (Bah) as the joke wasn’t funny anymore. Not even on catch up, unlike every other quali I’ve missed live over the past 10 years.

    I just don’t see the added excitement of this unless you are going to muck around with the format, but people don’t want to do that cos of DNA, etc. The only way this will be “exciting” is if the top 4 collide at the first corner in the sprint race / super qualifying / insert-your-own-joke-name-here causing an “artificial” grid for the main race that looks suspiciously like a reverse grid.

    1. @eurobrun There will still be “qualifying” as we know it, but it will decide the grid for the sprint race. This sprint race idea effectively just splits the race into two. Qualifying will still be there (just on Friday), and we will have a longer race with a red flag lasting 24 hours in the middle.

      1. @mashiat I totally get that, but the numbers that will tune on on a Friday for qualifying will be vastly lower than those that tune in for it now on Saturday.
        The DTM analogy, they still had qualifying, just earlier, and just as few people watched it. So it worked for them cos some people over no people is an improvement.
        For F1, I just don’t see that improvement, in fact I see it as a negative.

        1. @eurobrun Maybe it will be lower and F1 casuals might only tune in for Saturday, but the fact of the matter is that from my perspective, I absolutely am not an F1 casual. With this format, I still get to enjoy the thrill of Q3, and I get to watch more racing across two different days? Why should I complain? If I’m seeing less free practice and more racing, that’s what I want. I understand not everybody shares the same sentiment, but I wanna see more racing, not practice. And as for how it might skew historical statistics, why should I really care? I’m not a statistician, and this is no worse than a changing of the points system, which has happened so many times in the history of F1.

          1. @mashiat that’s a fair argument. I guess it just depends on your priorities. I just find it difficult to fit in 23 races and 23 qualifyings around the rest of my life, given that I also try my hardest to watch every Indy Car race, every BTCC race (ideally the whole Sunday schedule) and every F2 and F3 race.
            Last season I pretty much resorted to binge watching the whole F3 season over 3 days off work in the middle of October!

          2. @eurobrun I understand that argument completely, but for me, I love and enjoy F1 too much to ever complain about getting more racing. Since I live in Australia, all European races occur at night, so there is no better way to close out a weekend than with an F1 race.

  6. I posted a comment on the Round-up about an idea for this sprint races, but maybe it fits better here. If mods can somehow move it and delete it from there I’d appreciate it.

    I’ve had an idea for the sprint race-super qualifying-whatever.

    First of all, I prefer the current system (with minor tweaks, but the current one). But if this sprint race is “mandatory” and unavoidable, the lesser evil could be something like that (just my humble opinion):

    What if we design the sprint race just like the current system? After, say, 5 laps, the bottom-5 of the race get knocked out, starting on Sunday at the position they were at “their end” of the race. Further 5 laps gone and 11th-15th get also eliminated. Last 10 laps and the top-10 decide their starting places.

    You can twist this even more: what about recreating something similar to the 2016 system? After every single lap, the last driver is knocked out. You can set different options: 2 by 2, 4 by 4… after every lap, after every other lap, and so forth.

    I think this can also engage with the younger fans, since it kinda resembles the Fortnite elimination method based on deliberated shrinking of the space, some kind of F1 adapted-Battle Royale.

    What do you think?

    Sorry for the English!

    1. No matter what I think of your idea. How about we stop bargaining with those who argue in bad faith? They know they are doing it for their advertising incomes and not for ‘us’, the viewer.

  7. Abies de Wet
    3rd March 2021, 10:19

    F1 must Stop their Political Nonsense…

  8. F1 is a business first and a sport second, you can’t have a sport this expensive and expect the views of fans to be valued above those of the sponsors. I only watch F1 to see the best drivers in the world driving the most advanced cars in the world, if I want to watch competitive sport I’ll stick with tennis or snooker.

  9. I’m sure there absolutely will be a boost in viewing figures. I don’t often have time to watch full quali and race on Saturday and Sunday, but I will make the effort to watch “Super Qualifying” for 3 races this season because it’s new, and it’s only 3 races so it’s “special”. But what’s going happen once the novelty wears off?

    Sadly I predict the boost in viewers will be enough for them to extrapolate from that the extra potential revenue they could generate and the concept will be expanded next season.

    And then by 2023 the viewing figures will continue the path they were on previously. Until the next “innovation” comes along anyway…

  10. I am totally against sprint races. Just because an idea hasn’t been tried before doesn’t mean it should be. A bad idea, like this, should simply be shelved.

    A sport, which F1 proclaims- at its core- to be, has to retain key elements of purity. Exciting events within a sport are only so if the fans feel they are not artificial. A balance always has to be struck between increasing, but not dumbing down, those events.

    An obvious example of a failure in this regard is DRS. On the one hand, you get more overtaking. But on the other, any DRS overtake feels of lesser value than those achieved without; often met with the commentator’s refrain, “A straightforward pass under DRS”.

    For me, sprint races fall into the same category: on the one hand, more chance of trip-ups and unlikely results. But on the other, the race proper, and what takes place within it, will feel of lesser value as a result.

    The answer to F1’s problems is surely in the technical regulations- which 2022’s rules are supposed to meet. If the racing is close, and good, and cars can battle, we won’t need measures such as DRS or sprint races.

    1. @alloythere Fully with you regarding awful DRS. For me the ‘super-qualifying’ is not in the same category at all, nor do I see it taking away from the main event. Fully with you on the closer racing cars come 2022 and I so so hope DRS has only been retained as a safeguard in case the teams find loopholes to somehow retain too much clean air dependence still, which I don’t think is going to happen. I’m extremely hopeful that, if DRS is even deemed ‘necessary’ in 2022, they’ll make some tweaks to the regs and rid themselves of it completely for 2023.

      For me though the close racing cars for Sunday’s have nothing to do with the question that is being asked which is “Is there a more exciting way to qualify on Saturday?” Clarifying that I mean, as I said below, if they stick to the usual format, which if they end up doing I’m absolutely fine with that, it is individual time trial laps by drivers leaving themselves space, so it won’t matter if the cars are clean air dependent or independent. If however they go with a sprint format once the cars are clean air independent, then that can make for even more exciting action on Saturday, not just Sunday.

  11. I think they should have a separate sprint race championship on Saturdays.

    Use ballast in the cars based on GP championship standing. Top of the standings heaviest. Have two 10 minute qualifying sessions (with ballast) to determine sprint race starting order.

    You could use finishing results to determine the grid for the Grand Prix on Sunday, but I think the GP format should remain the same. Have two cars for each driver one for the sprint race and the GP.

  12. So having sprint races with cars that can’t follow closely is going to increase viewership in ways that the main race where cars can’t follow closely can’t? I don’t see why they insist on making changes like this before finding out if the 2022 rules will have the desired effect.

    1. @velocityboy I hear that, however, if the sprint qualifying is more exciting regardless of their dirty air problem, that should increase viewership nonetheless. And not everyone has a problem with how these cars race. Then there’s the fact as you point out that come next year they should well be able to race more closely. But as well, if they do this experiment and decide not to proceed and to just stick to the usual format, the new style cars won’t show their ability to race closely as it will be the usual individual time-trial method, so there will be nothing for which to wait and see. Only for race day, which of course is super exciting as it is.

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