Start, Silverstone, 2020

How will Formula 1 decide if ‘Sprint’ races are a success? Ross Brawn explains

2021 F1 season

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In less than a month’s time, the Formula 1 field will line up for its first ever ‘Sprint’ race, an innovation which has been hotly debated since RaceFans revealed the proposal in February.

The British Grand Prix will be the first of three events this year where the starting grid is set not by a qualifying session, but another race. Officially this will be designated as the ‘Sprint’ (F1 has previously used other terms, including ‘Sprint Qualifying’ to describe it). Extra points will also be doled out for these extra Saturday races.

Formula 1 refers to these three events as a trial of a new format which, if it is deemed successful, may be rolled out at further events next year. But there is an obvious financial case for introducing Sprint races, making it hard to imagine this year’s three races won’t be the first of many.

When Liberty Media announced its first quarter earnings last month, the approval of the Sprint race format was highlighted alongside other key financial developments such as the new Miami Grand Prix race deal and the renewal of a major sponsor contract. The new format has come into existence for economic reasons, not sporting ones.

Yesterday Formula 1’s motorsport director Ross Brawn said the sport will consider feedback from promoters and broadcasters as well as fans when considering whether to hold more Sprint races in 2022.

Start, Monza, 2020
After Silverstone, Monza will host F1’s second Sprint race
“Certainly we’ve had a lot of promoters say they would like to have the Sprint as part of their package going forward. And, of course, in this commercial world that’s something can be negotiated with promoters so that the teams share the benefits of a more complete weekend.

“In terms of measuring it, we have our own internal group now that measure all the various parameters and do surveys of fans, avid fans, casual fans, all the different categories of fans.

“We study the social media response. There’s a whole fleet of studies that are done in our normal racing season and we get lots of feedback on what are popular events, what are popular races, how fans are reacting to different incidents in the races and so on. They’ll be looking at this quite intensely to study what response we get and we can make a judgement.”

Brawn admitted there will be a “novelty value” to take into account for the first Sprint race at Silverstone in July. “What we’ve got to do is make sure that engagement we get from the first event, we carry on and we build on the subsequent event.

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“So there will be a lot of work behind the scenes to analyse how this works and then also how we build a commercial model that helps. Because we have to advertise this, there’s going to be costs for the teams, there’s going to be costs for Formula 1 to do this. And we need to make sure that everything ends up net positive.”

Sprint races will create “really solid content”, Brawn believes
The support of the teams will also be necessary if Sprint races are to continue, as the regulations will have to be approved for 2022. “Next year we will need completely new agreements,” Brawn confirmed. “There’s nothing in place at all for next year and it will have to go through the same governance procedure that happened this year.”

In order to secure the teams’ support for the trial this year, Formula 1 agreed to pay compensation for damage incurred in Sprint races. Brawn hopes teams will be happy to continue with the format next year without it.

“Of course there’s the commercial aspect to this,” he says. “The teams want to see where the commercial benefits come from this initiative. And this year Formula 1 has helped this move along because we think it’s important.

“Obviously, in the future, we want it to stand on its own two feet and I think with some certainty as early as possible for next year, we can find commercial benefits, sponsors, partners who want to be involved in the Sprint.”

It’s also clear that assessing the success of Sprint races does not mean deciding the format is suitable for every round of the world championship. “We don’t see it as a format that will be at every race,” Brawn explained. “We think it will be a more suitable format for some of the events, some of the races.

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“It helps broadcasters, because they have content on all three days, really solid content. It helps promoters because they’ve got more exciting events going on both on Friday and Saturday. So there’s lots of wins in this.

Start, Silverstone, 2020
Poll: Will F1’s new Sprint races enhance the championship?
“What we don’t know is how the dynamic of a race weekend will play out. The first event’s Silverstone, then we’re doing Monza. I think as the teams get into it, it will change because once they’ve had the experience of Silverstone no doubt they’ll change their the way they operate for Monza.” The third Sprint race will likely take place at the Circuit of the Americas or Interlagos.

Assuming the trial is deemed a success, the 2022 F1 season could feature twice as many Sprint races, says Brawn.

“We can see a scenario where maybe there’s half-a-dozen events next year where this is part of the format. It could even extend from there.

“Who knows what would be the ideal number? I think that’s something we’ve got to discuss and debate when we get a feeling for how it works and how successful it is.”

Formula 1 has high hopes for the Sprint qualifying format but the feedback from our readers has so far been much less positive. But the scheme is clearly aimed at attracting new fans, ideally without deterring those already watching. In less than a month we’ll start to discover if F1 has pulled that off.

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30 comments on “How will Formula 1 decide if ‘Sprint’ races are a success? Ross Brawn explains”

  1. Sprint races as they are now planned isn’t that great. The idea is good but the applied way is lacking. Should be a reverse kind of grid before or after the race.

    1. RandomMallard (@)
      18th June 2021, 8:35

      @macleod They tried to do this with reverse grid races last year, at the events where they were repeating races (Austria and Silverstone at first). However, one team in particular (Mercedes) vetoed the entire idea.

  2. Let’s face it, the sprint race could be the most boring, pointless exercise and F1 would still whip positive spin on it, and manufacture some metric that implies fan approval. They’ll pay the teams whatever they need to to push it through, and the sprint races will be here to stay.

    They want this, they will make sure they get it.

    1. 100% agree with you! Look who is judging! The wolf in charge of the hen house. Of his own admission: it’s all about money.

  3. I was concerned that if the sprint race was exciting, it would be deemed a success, and would at the very least be kept, but might even be extended so the Grand Prix weekend is made up of all sprint races. This would, of course, be disastrous, and would completely kill the spirit of F1 and the Grand Prix.
    But if the sprint race was boring, Ross Brawn may decide the reason for this was that not enough points were awarded, and would give full points for it. This would also massively devalue the Grand Prix, so would similarly be disastrous (hopefully then it would still be boring and would be scrapped altogether, but we may first have to put up with a season of two-race weekends, which would ruin the record books).
    But I think I’ve found the only way that the sprint races can be deemed a failure and be scrapped (which would be a success). It would be if the sprint race was fairly exciting, as the grid sorted itself out into its final position, but then the actual Grand Prix was a total procession, as the drivers had already sorted themselves into the order they finished. This would have to happen in all three sprint races, while all the other Grands Prix around them were exciting, so that it was very obvious that the sprint races were to blame. It would be a shame for some of the best races of the season to be processions, but it would be worth it (as it’s just for one season) to return the weekend format to the perfection that it is in right now.
    Obviously the other option would be if the sprint races actually improve the racing, while no points are awarded (or at least no more than the 3-2-1) so it does not devalue the Grand Prix or ruin the record books, and it is never taken to a more extreme level. But that just seems so incredibly unlikely that I am going to have to hope for the previous scenario.

    1. @f1frog I think if your ‘hoped-for’ scenario materialised, then that would be interpreted as meaning that shorter races were obviously more entertaining than long ones, and enhance the argument that the Grand Prix distance should be shortened.

      1. @red-andy I was concerned about that as well, but that is why it requires the sprint races to only be average, and for the other Grands Prix to be very exciting, so it was very clear that the sprint races caused the Grands Prix to be dull. But maybe you’re right, in which case I need to think of a different scenario for the sprint races that cause them to be scrapped and the weekend format left as it is now, without me having to buy Formula 1. Currently, it very much seems like we are stuck with them whatever happens, and it is very likely that they will be made more extreme.

    2. @f1frog Yes I would think most of the people on this forum would agree with you me included. There are two groups we haven’t really discussed that I think would be happy with the sprint race concept.
      The drivers because they get to race more and of course the engineers who I think will see the sprint as a fantastic opportunity and use it as a extended test session.
      But of course if/when in the future Liberty decide to offer more points for the sprint race and possibly reduce the main race in length to match. That will change the the concept into two mini GPs, not something I’m comfortable with.

      1. I don’t see the engineers being happy about taking away their job. You start a race with a set up and finish with the same set up. A test session give the engineer the opportunity to try multiple set up and learn. These guys have worked their all life to reach F1 and you ask then to go back to F2 level?

    3. This would, of course, be disastrous, and would completely kill the spirit of F1 and the Grand Prix.

      Overstatement of the week. Possibly even the entire year.

      Personally, I see then as a massive wasted opportunity – they should be running reverse grids or success ballast or something instead to actually make them different to the GP.

      1. Just to be clear, I meant that having three mini-GPs per weekend instead of the real Grand Prix would kill the spirit of Formula 1, which may be a bit of an exaggeration but I stand by it. There’s something really special about the Grand Prix, which is just one long race in the weekend, and it just isn’t the same for other motorsport series with multiple mini-races. I would still watch it and enjoy it, of course, but it wouldn’t be anywhere near as good as it is now, and other series would become better than F1. I didn’t mean the the sprint races, as they are now, will kill the spirit of F1.

        1. I think many more things that have changed over the years have had a far more profound or detrimental effect on F1 (or my perception of F1’s ‘essence’) than changing the weekend format.
          Changing race length/quantity is merely adapting to current and future audience desires, as far as I’m concerned, whereas other changes have fundamentally altered how F1 works, who can compete, how they compete and who benefits from it – far more than race length or number of races.

          I don’t see why there’s worry about multiple mini-GP’s or whatever replacing the current ones anyway. It would be extremely unlikely.

        2. @f1frog this is what I’ve been suggesting will be the ultimate outcome.

          Even though it has not been said or even hinted at, it’s the natural extension for trialling sprint races that some of the race weekends end up being exactly that 3 sprint races instead of a proper one.

          Brawns analogy to cricket – pretty much supports that given the deluge of crappy 20/20 that is now broadcast v’s a severely reduced amount of test cricket.

  4. It will be deemed a success come rain or shine. F1 now has a monopolistic position within the motorsport market place that it can now risk detaching itself from ‘legacy’ fans who kick up the most fan and go after the netflix generation of fans who are less attached to a particular format.

    I think this really is the beginning of big changes.

  5. Meaningless word salad. I guess the key success measure, which is alluded to but not stated outright here, is whether they’ll be able to charge race promoters a premium for including a sprint race in their event.

  6. It’s more racing, so I don’t really see a downside. Let’s get rid of that awful qualifying format aswell.

    1. I detect some level of sarcasm in your comment, am I wrong?

  7. I fail to understand the point of the sprint races and I’m not sure it’ll do what they want. Only the top 3 score points, and even they are minimal. I don’t see there being much in the way of overtaking at the front but potential chaos at the back, as it’s a balance of risk vs reward.

    Example 1:
    Verstappen starts 2nd for sprint race, behind Hamilton. He can follow closely but it’s going to be tricky to pass. Will he really risk a move for 1 extra point and the chance to start on pole the next day vs contact and not finishing at all, and having to start the main race at the back? He can see he’s faster, so will simply wait until race day where pit stop strategy can get him safely ahead, and the points difference between first and second is more meaningful.

    Example 2:
    Drivers outside the top 10 have got nothing to lose – they’re not gaining points in the sprint race and they’ll likely start far back in the main race. It’ll be these drivers that take the biggest risks to try and move forwards for a better grid slot on the Sunday.

    But overtaking lower down the field hasn’t really been a massive problem anyway, when compared to the front runners. So we’ve not gained anything.

    Example 3:
    It rains in qualifying, causing a really jumbled grid. We’re in for an exciting race now! Or rather, we would be, except the sprint race simply allows the drivers to sort themselves out into the expected grid order for the main race. Main race is now a procession.

    Hopefully I’m wrong, but it feels like change for the sake of change.

    1. RandomMallard (@)
      18th June 2021, 11:36

      @cdavman However you could flip scenario 3 on it’s head. We have a normal Qualifying, then a sprint race that sees Bottas spin 6 times and a surprise result, creating a mixed up grid for the Sunday race still. Not all wet Qualifying sessions end up with a particularly jumbled grid, for example Styria last year

    2. Hopefully I’m wrong, but it feels like change for the sake of money. There, I fixed it for you :)

  8. I’m ok with varying the format a few times through the season, especially with the high number of actual race weekends. At many circuits, qually is dull as ditchwater anyway.

    I’d go further and have single solo lap qually at Monaco, Russia, Malaysia; basically the circuits where drivers always moan about traffic. Why shouldn’t the event structure suit the circuit it takes place at and could that not be a solution to complaints about circuit designs to some extent?

  9. Dan Rooke (@geekzilla9000)
    18th June 2021, 10:19

    @cdavman – you’re not the only one!

    The regulations which were meant to come into force this year but were delayed until next year are meant to enable cars to follow each other more closely and provide more overtaking opportunities. It makes sense (in my humble opinion in my capacity as armchair pundit) to see if those regs work before applying new formats for the race weekend.

    Under the current format, the quickest cars tend to qualify up front and finish the race up front. Qualifying and sprint races will surely be the same, so unless there’s a strange happenstance (which could occur anyway with the current format) then it’ll be the same usual suspects up front and if you have a massively dominant team then it’ll be 2 opportunities a weekend to finish ahead and add to their points tally.

    I’m trying not to be negative about Sprint Races, but other than trying to get more Saturday TV audiences I don’t see the point. And if that’s what it’s about (and interviews from Brawn suggest that) then Liberty/F1 should just be honest and say that they want the race weekend to have 2 races so that they can maximise opportunities to get TV viewership.

    Also, I’ve mentioned before that having different race weekend formats, and different ways of scoring championship points between races could be confusing to newcomers to F1 or casual fans.

    1. AJ (@asleepatthewheel)
      18th June 2021, 12:20

      A lot has been said about casual fans. Who are these casual fans? How many times has one actually turned on the TV, and casually watched a sport they don’t understand? I have no interest whatsoever in Moto GP, and never have I tried watching it just because I love F1. I don’t know how scoring in golf works, that doesn’t mean the bosses sitting in the offices of golf associations should tweak the rules to attract me.

      Point is, there’s an extremely small percentage of people who fall into this ‘casual’ category. A person who has interest in F1 or any other sport will do his/her research about it and eventually understand whatever rules and format is thrown at them, and stick with the sport irrespective of its era. There is no need to purposefully come up with gimmicks like sprint qualifying or whatever else is running in their heads just to attract newer generations.
      Sadly, the Americanization of this sport has begun.

      1. @asleepatthewheel The only way to get into any sport is to turn it on and watch it.
        Nobody spends months researching something before they even see it once or twice.
        Maybe they instantly like it a lot and devote their life to it. Maybe they like it a little bit and don’t think much about it until they come across it again next time, and maybe they don’t like it at all and never bother again. Maybe they are somewhere in between and it grows on the over time.

        Who knows, maybe if you did actually watch Moto GP or golf, you might like them a little bit and become a casual, or even like it a lot and become a tragic…
        You are allowed to like more than one thing at a time.

        1. AJ (@asleepatthewheel)
          18th June 2021, 16:32

          You missed the point S. I am against races being artificially livened up to attract viewers. That 2 lap fiasco in Baku, these new sprint races…God knows what’s next.

          1. More interesting races to watch, hopefully.

            The final 2 laps at Baku weren’t artificial – they were the most pure 2 laps of the whole event.
            The sprint races won’t be artificial either – they are simply a different way of doing things. (Though not necessarily the ideal way, IMO)
            I suspect by artificial, you mean that you just don’t like them.

  10. There are more chances than none that a young fan is introduced to the sport by an older fan (Family) If you gimmick out the “old geezers” who is going to introduce next gen. to the sport? Will they spontaneously ignite and switch to ESPN2 at 9am on Saturday? Is F1 planning to attract these fans from the back of cereal boxes? Subliminal messages in video games?

  11. I am in favour of sprint races but please can the polesitter for historical/records purposes be classed as the driver who is first in Friday Qualifying not Saturday Sprint Qualifying.
    Or ideally, the driver who is legally fastest on Friday, to avoid another Schumacher 2012 Monaco situation.

  12. I’m pretty sure the actual research will be “ how do we determine if sprint races are NOT a success” rather than as described.

    The initial premise will be that they are successful until proved otherwise – a small but critical point in terms of outcome.

  13. So they are basically going to decide based on how much money they can make. Cool. This is what I expected when I heard an American company was buying F1M. Maybe next year we will be able to buy fan boost credits.

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