Sprint qualifying “a bit strange” and has room for improvement – Binotto

2021 British Grand Prix

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Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto found Formula 1’s first sprint qualifying event last weekend “a bit strange” but will reserve judgement until the three-round trial of the new format is complete.

At Silverstone, the regular qualifying session was moved forward to Friday and a 17-lap race dubbed ‘sprint qualifying’ held in its place on Saturday. F1 intends to hold two more sprint qualifying events at the Italian Grand Prix and one further round of the championship later this year.

“The new format was an experiment for 2021 and we decided to have three races with such a format,” said Binotto. “I think after the first one it’s still to early to decide, we need a bit to digest it.”

One criticism of the new arrangements was that Saturday morning’s practice session was run with the cars under ‘parc ferme’ conditions which tightly limited the changes teams could make.

“Certainly there are things that can be improved, like maybe considering what can be done for Saturday morning, make it a bit more relevant,” said Binotto.

“But overall I think as well what will be the numbers from TV and the audience will be important. So I don’t think that we can have a final judgement right now. I think we need to wait for the next two F1 opportunities to have a better picture.

“I think that the race, the mini-race the sprint quali is a bit strange for me. But as I said, we need to digest.”

McLaren team principal Andreas Seidl believes the first sprint qualifying weekend showed the format is only suitable for certain venues.

“It’s good that we have this trial now this year for three weekends. I think it’s good to take our time together with the fans, with our partners, with our teams, with Formula 1, with the FIA to analyse exactly how these weekends event and then make conclusions based on that. That’s just an initial view.

“I think it’s a good idea to only use let’s say at specific events, tracks for a different format. So I don’t see that, for example, that’s just the standard for all weekends.”

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Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...
Keith Collantine
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  • 27 comments on “Sprint qualifying “a bit strange” and has room for improvement – Binotto”

    1. Nikos (@exeviolthor)
      23rd July 2021, 7:39

      Well one easy way to improve it would be to go back to a proper qualifying session.

      1. Indeed, I think sprint quali was a failure so far, it basically gives away the running order of the race, and was more boring, it was worse than the actual race at silverstone.

      2. Back in the day, qualifying was held on both Friday and Saturday giving both days greater relevance. Sometimes you would see some of the top drivers keep their powder dry for Saturday only for the weather to pull their pants down. There was never anything wrong with that arrangement. Bernie should’ve left it alone.

        Reply moderated
    2. FP2 is worthless move it to friday and do Qualiflier on saterday morning and the Q-race in the afternoon. Also third race should also give third points something like this: 8 – 5 – 3 – 2 -1 first 5 drivers (maybe the first 6)

      Friday is a day i never can watch F1 as i work (and no i don’t have a 9-5 job, more a 8-8 …)

      Pole postion or Pole sitter is a strange thing to tell So Lewis was fastest and Max got the poleposition … No this is wrong just change the rull that the race is lead by the poleposition. Quailfier is still for pole position count and the race winner is the pole sitter (just MAKE 2 titles)

      1. I think one of the key reasons Formula 1 wanted sprint was to give a meaning to Friday. For the TV public, Friday is actually an inconvenience. But Friday is valuable to track owners / organizers as they can sell more tickets on Friday while incurring no extra costs. And it is track owners / organizers who pay a premium to hold the ‘Sprint weekend’. British GP organizers infact did pay a premium to be the 1st one to hold the sprint weekend (a quote from Helmut Marko sometime back).

        But what F1 really needs to focus on is what to do with Saturday. Right now, Saturday is just a 25-30 min race and a meaningless FP2. Track organizers will soon find public unwilling to come to the circuit for just a 30 min race, unless there is a significant amount of support race fanfare on Saturday. TV public has time on hand on Saturday but there is only a 30 min race to look forward to. No one – organizers, TV fans, live fans – will see value on Saturday and that is detrimental.

        Here’s a wacko suggestion: Allow some changes to cars after Friday (not full parc ferme, but half parc ferme). Have 2 sprint races on Saturday of 30 mins each. The 1st one starts in order of Q3. The 2nd one starts with swapping of drivers every 2 places – Drivers who finished Q3 in 1st, 3rd, 5th… start 2nd, 4th, 6th.. and vice-versa. Both races to award equal number of points (Whatever the points system may be). Final starting order to be based on average finishing position of the 2 sprint races. If 2 drivers have equal average position, priority given to finishing position of the 1st race.

        And let the Saturday races be of a minimum time rather than a maximum distance. Will be interesting to see if some teams fuel for 19 laps and instead there are 20 laps.

        1. For the TV public, Friday is actually an inconvenience.

          That’s a strange take – are you implying that you’re not a true fan if you’re not interested in watching Friday Practice?

          Keep in mind that Qualifying was a 2 day event, in 2x 1 hour sessions on Friday and Saturday until 1996, so you technically had meaningful sessions on both days unless the weather was rubbish on one or both. The problem is that F1 seems to ignore the idea that people generally work or have other things to do on a Friday afternoon that are more important than a meaningful F1 session of some kind. It’s a classic case of F1 trying to fix something that isn’t broken, just to get more money of because they think they know better.

          Having now watch the sprint race, I don’t have any time for the format – not that is wasn’t interesting, just that it doesn’t work in the grand scheme of the weekend for me. Having Ross Brawn then claim that the fans loved it and those that didn’t actually didn’t understand what was going on, is a big insult, especially to anyone who was happy watching a team with his name on it win the 2009 championships.

          tbh I’d rather F1 dropped to just a 2 day event format – limiting the amount of practice actually makes more sense if you want to increase unpredictibility so that the teams have less data to work with. Extra meaningful sessions – especially one that could potentially decide a championship on a Saturday (and won’t happen at every event, changing the value of some races) – that doesn’t work for me.

      2. Quailfier is still for pole position count

        It’s never been like that. Pole sitter is the one (supposed to be) starting from pole.
        Just check Mexico 2 years ago.

    3. I would be open to a special Sprint Cup though:
      – Have up to 10 Sprint Cup Races throughout the year;
      – Award simple 20-1 points to all finishers;
      – Does NOT set the pole for the race;
      – Sprint Cup standing at end of year awards points like 1 single race (25 for leader, 18 for second, etc.)

      And here the part that most will detest, but think it through anyway:
      – sprint race 1 based on WDC standing as is.
      – next races based on reverse grid of previous race finishing positions (i.e. at the start of 2nd race all is equal and you fight to get ahead). Nobody will deliberately fall back as the starting position you gain is the same points you certainly lose in the latest race.

    4. Just ask all the drivers on Friday if they wanna have a reverse championship race instead of FP2. If all 20 say yes to it, then go for it.

      Leave Saturday Sunday formats as is.
      Use hard tyre for flat out Saturday qualifying.
      Use soft tyres for strategic Sunday races.

    5. Roth Man (@rdotquestionmark)
      23rd July 2021, 8:57

      I enjoyed the Friday evening qualifying, I felt that was setting the weekend up for something special, but then the Sprint Race itself just felt utterly pointless to me, just an extension of the main race, which was started on Sat, red flagged, then continued on Sunday. Pointless, contrived and had a ‘forced fun’ feel to it.

      I do think there’s more that can be done with an F1 weekend though, there’s a better idea in there somewhere.

      1. @rdotquestionmark Yeah, I agree with that. If there is to be some kind of sprint race on Saturday, I think it needs something in the format to distinguish it, so it doesn’t simply feel like an extension of the main race.

        Here’s one idea: Use Friday qualifying to set the grid for Sunday’s grand prix, but then set the grid for Saturday’s sprint race by using every driver’s second-best lap time from quali. That might mix up the grid, but not in an artificial way. It would raise the stakes in the quali session — if you only do two runs, each run would count for something.

        1. Roth Man (@rdotquestionmark)
          23rd July 2021, 17:48

          There’s something there @markzastrow. If it is ‘entertainment’ they are after, they could have Friday quali for main race as is. But the sprint race is a separate event, 17 lap blast for 10 8 6 5 4 3 2 1 points (the old system) but the order of the sprint race is determined by reverse championship order. It leaves the Sunday’s and qualifying pure, with a whack of artificial entertainment on the Saturday. But the drivers would absolutely go for it because of the points up for grabs.

          1. @rdotquestionmark I could go for that, too. Obviously some don’t like the idea of reverse grids, but I like bringing back the old points system. 10 points for a sprint win compared to 25(+1) points for the main event seems like just the right balance. If a midfield driver ekes out a win, 10 points won’t allow them to close the gap to the front runners, or threaten to outshine the accomplishment of a grand prix win. But, as you say, it’s enough of a haul that the top teams starting at the back would be fighting tooth and nail through the field to break into the points.

    6. Yep it was strange for me too.

      I tried to watch it with an open mind, but it added nothing to the weekend for me.

      Quite the reverse – the disruption to the normal order of proceedings completely ruined the “ build up” to qualifying and the race for me.

      Watching teams throw everything at trying to get things “just so” in practice and then let it all loose in qualy, to me, is part of the appeal of F1, whereas the “turn up and qualify” and then have a completely pointless P2 and an equally pointless “race” before Sunday’s finale just destroyed the flow.

      1. IfImnotverymuchmistaken
        23rd July 2021, 10:23

        Agreed. After quali I thought “this was a great Q session”, but then remembered, it doesn’t actually mean anything for the race.
        Then the sprint race came, and the first few laps were very exciting, and when the race settled down I thought it was a nice little race, but again, a race without any meaning, because, no points (relevant ones, in any case).
        When the actual race came on, it was all a bit deflated by then, and Grand Prix itself lost a bit of that special something.

        1. Yeah, I think I’m with the both of you IfImnotverymuchmistaken and @dbradock, it just didn’t add much and made me enjoy quali less (also bc. Friday evening, around dinner time/after work when I usually have time for/with wife, for me is not good scheduling).

      2. Yes, same, I wasn’t one of those immediately opposed before even trying it but after that it disappointed.

      3. I agree, too. It’s hard to put a finger on it, but the loss of that sense of flow and build-up was the biggest disappointment for me. And unfortunately, I don’t suspect that will show up in the metrics that Brawn touts to measure success…

    7. The current weekend programme without the sprint is working well so why change it?

      Well to give promoters something to sell Friday tickets with and broadcasters more advertising opportunities.

      But it made a mess of the weekend.

      The second practice was a waste of resources, the pole sitter was not the pole sitter, and by Sunday we already had had a race but, the FIA said, it wasn’t a race it was a sprint. So we started Sunday’s race with the pole sitter second on the grid and with some drivers further behind having won a better grid position through the non-race sprint (or a worse one).

      Let me offer a scenario. I am not sure it will play out this way but it might.

      Friday evening is not a good time for qualifying but if qualifying is devalued to a chase to the sprint grid it might not attract the effort currently applied as some teams might save themselves and their machinery for opportunistic moves in the sprint. So the whizzo idea of the sprint qualifying might, in the end, simply replace the current qualifying – also on Saturday but in sprint form – while the official qualifying on Friday will be a warm up for the sprint with only the front runners putting real effort into it.

      And so the ‘attraction’ for Friday will be a declining asset and we will be back to normal with a Saturday sprint setting the race grid and a Friday ‘qualifying’ which is more like a practice for the sprint?

      Whether that scenario plays out or not I am sure there will be multiple unexpected consequences for this unnecessary change.

      1. I think this all sounds quite likely Witan. I can see that the attraction of the Friday qualifying will reduce over time and the sprint race will in effect become the place where all the effort is made.

        This may well be why several relevant parties have said this format should certainly only be used at a limited number of races.

        I don’t know the answer as I think I can see what Liberty are trying to achieve. Maybe the answer is to go back to Friday as was and have both the old qualifying session as before, on a Saturday morning and then a shorter sprint race (say 75 kms instead of 100) later in the day. So both on Saturday?

    8. One thing i’ve heard over the past week is that opinions have been far more mixed than they were expecting/hoping they would be.

      They obviously saw the negativity going in but were confident that once people saw the weekend format they would see the positives & become more open to it. However that doesn’t really seem to have happened & there is some genuine concern that pushing ahead with this format may end up alienating a significant portion of the fanbase.

      One thing i’ve heard though from more than one person is that Liberty’s focus is the younger/casual audience and they are operating on the belief that the longer time/more dedicated fans will stick around regardless of what they change so they can afford to change any aspect of F1 they wish to.

      Broadcasters have been asked to sell the sprint format as often & as hard as possible as they want to get this through & use it at as many races as possible. This is why you saw some on Sky for example who were highly sceptical of the format suddenly become huge proponents for it & why you didn’t hear any other view on any of Sky’s coverage over the weekend, Expect that to be even more apparent over the rest of the sprint weekend races.

      1. Thank you for your insights, @gt-racer!
        Have you heard anything about the teams’ reception of the new format? After all, they will ultimately have to decide the fate of this new format. Publicly, teams have obviously been diplomatic and holding back direct criticism. But what they say in public is rarely what they actually think.

      2. @gt-racer They’ve left out the entire Southern Hemisphere, yes Australia and New Zealand. but more importantly South East Asia and South America two very large markets. As for me an older fan I would still watch F1 with sprint races, it’s the changes to the regulations they’re bringing in over the next few years that will change my habits.

    9. Can’t see it improving. Ever.

    10. Roth Man (@rdotquestionmark)
      23rd July 2021, 17:49

      If it was ‘entertainment’ they were after, they could have Friday quali for main race as is. But the sprint race is a separate event, 17 lap blast for 10 8 6 5 4 3 2 1 points (the old system) but the order of the sprint race is determined by reverse championship order. It leaves the Sunday’s and qualifying pure, with a whack of artificial entertainment on the Saturday. But the drivers would absolutely go for it because of the points up for grabs.

      1. I think this sounds like a pretty good idea i.e. taking the sprint races out of the picture for the actual Grand Prix on Sunday.

        Maybe though the points on offer would have too large an influence on the main WDC. So I think perhaps the same idea but with reduced points as per the previous system again i.e. 10(or 9), 6, 4, 3, 2, 1.

    11. Fair play to Ferrari, the organisational reshuffle appears to be doing them good. I hope they are right in the mix at the sharp end, where they belong, when 2022 kicks off! The sport needs it.

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