F1’s sprint race rules change won’t end pole position confusion


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Sebastian Vettel immediately recognised one of the most unsatisfactory aspects of Formula 1’s sprint qualifying format when it was introduced last year.

What did he make of F1 ending a tradition which dates back to the very first world championship of decide the pole position winner using timed laps, and replacing it with a one-third-distance race? “That’s wrong,” stated Vettel.

“Pole is the fastest lap time achieved or the fastest lap time in qualifying,” he continued. “So it gets all a bit confusing.”

Aside from the occasional, necessary evil of grid penalties, this largely holds true. It should have come to no surprise to anyone in F1, when they dreamt up the sprint qualifying format last year, that changing the definition of pole position was going to be a hard sell to fans.

In the first ever sprint qualifying event, held at Silverstone, Lewis Hamilton lined up first but was passed off the line by Max Verstappen. With that, for the first time, pole position had been won not with a flying lap but a flying start.

Vettel has 53 ‘real’ pole positions
Afterwards I mentioned to F1’s motorsport director Ross Brawn – the architect of the sprint format – that a link to over a thousand grands’ prix worth of history had been severed.

“Maybe that’s something we need to think about, if there’s some change in the nomenclature of what we’re doing,” Brawn replied. “Should Friday be the pole position? There’s things, like that, that we will talk about and discuss with the FIA and the teams.

“But I think we can’t be held back by history. We need to respect history but we must never be held back by history.”

Brawn’s response left me in no doubt that he saw this as purely a problem of ‘optics’. What was announced today bore out that view.

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It was striking that the FIA’s statement announcing the new sprint race rules noted only that the format changes would include “awarding pole position to the fastest driver in qualifying on Friday”. That seemed encouraging. But F1’s explanation of its new rules confirmed the only change is a cosmetic one.

Verstappen won F1’s first sprint qualifying race
“The driver who tops Friday qualifying on a sprint weekend will be awarded pole position for statistical purposes,” it noted (emphasis added). “Sunday’s grand prix grid will still be determined by the results of the Saturday sprint.”

This fails to solve, or even to acknowledge, the problem F1 faces with its sprint race pole position nomenclature. Across the motorsport globe, ‘pole position’ means first place on the grid for a race.

At F1’s sprint events, two races are held: One on Saturday, the other on Sunday. There are, therefore, two pole positions.

So, come the first sprint of 2022 at Imola, if Hamilton is quickest in Friday qualifying and takes pole position for the sprint race, but Verstappen beats him off the line and comes home first, the Red Bull driver will win pole position for the grand prix. F1 can issue all the social media posts it likes about Hamilton being the pole winner ‘for statistical purposes’, but the answer to the question ‘who is on pole position for the grand prix?’ would still be ‘Max Verstappen’.

Pretending otherwise would only make those in charge look ignorant of basic racing terminology, or so arrogant they believe they have a monopoly on the language of motorsport.

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One of the most tedious aspects of sprint qualifying last year was enduring the endless chatter around who had taken the ‘real’ pole position and what the definition pole position was. This change isn’t going to fix that, it’s going to make it worse.

Lance Stroll, Aston Martin, Silverstone, 2022
Aston Martin have already done their shakedown
Unfortunately F1 seems to have persuaded itself that semantics hold the solution to all its problems. In much the same way it previously thought by referring to its new events as ‘sprint qualifying’ people might not notice they were, in fact, races. Proving how flawed that idea was, it has now dropped ‘qualifying’ from the name, even though they continue to serve the purpose of being grid-setting sessions for the grand prix.

F1 did much the same by announcing the first three-day pre-season test of the year in Spain is, in fact, merely a ‘shakedown’ and will not be televised live. That honour instead goes to Bahrain, whose second three day open session is billed as the first true ‘test’ of the year. Yet as things stand, there is no difference between the two events as far as the rule book is concerned.

Therefore F1 has missed its chance to fix one of the most unsatisfactory aspects of its sprint format. Given that, the best news in today’s announcement is the confirmation the planned increase from three sprint events to six will not go ahead. At least that will lessen the scope for confusion.


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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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28 comments on “F1’s sprint race rules change won’t end pole position confusion”

  1. Surely the fastest driver on Friday will be on pole position for the first part of the GP race on Saturday, whereas the winner of the first part will be on pole for the second part of the GP race on Sunday.
    Pole position is the person who will be starting from the front of the grid for a race.

    1. I get that, but it’s it actually true? Had it ever been?

      Pole position is whoever starts the “race” (whatever that is) from the first spot. However, that is both always the fastest from qualifying. There can be penalties, and a few other ways that someone other than the fastest in qualifying could ends up not being on pole. This entire arguement is pretty ridiculous, IMHO.

    2. Or as F1 sees it. Pole position is for the driver who wins a race but the starting grid for that race is detrrmined by a qualifying but being the fastest there doesn’t get you anything but a fastest lap. Then for the main race techically the slowest guy could be starting on pole by winning a race but driving the slowest fastest lap in that race. But what makes it even interesting is that the first race gives you points which it’s actually a qualifying but the fastest qualifier doesn’t get any points.
      Some one could also skip the qualifying and do a “Hamilton in Brazil” and still start on top 4.

      1. *determined, is…

  2. The Sprint is just the first part of a longer Grand Prix, which starts on Saturday and has a long red flag period until the start on Sunday.

    I already looked at this that way, but both the pole position award, which is now for the driver on pole for the Saturday race, and the added points (just like the revised points for the Sunday races) makes it even more so.

    1. @silfen @juliangoddard In which case they can’t argue that the gimmick sprint isn’t detracting or delauing the real race because if the gimmick is the opening phase of the real race then it’s by definition detracting/devaluing the real race.

      In fact looking at it that way just makes the gimmick race seem even more stupid & pointless.

    2. @silfen +1.

      When you look at it that way, while it’s a radical departure from the existing standard, I feel there’s nothing about it that is intrinsically unfair or gimmicky, like reverse grids. As a spectator at home, I’m not a huge fan of the format, but it’s no worse than the qualifying races at Macau and the Rolex 24, races whose prestige has not suffered from them. And if I were attending in person and bringing along friends in the hopes of converting them into fans, I’d be pretty happy to see two races instead of one.

      If Brawn had sold sprint races as a straightforward opportunity to simply see more racing over the course of the weekend at some of the most prestigious tracks on the calendar — a sort of Super Grand Prix format for a select number of worthy venues — instead of starting with reverse grids, promising all-out action with different “winners” and then watering down the concept, I think the reception from hardcore fans would be a lot different.

  3. Just ditch this stupid gimmick race format & we wouldn’t have any of these entirely self created issues.

    The fact they are having to play with semantics, That they are having to try & explain away flaws like this & play these silly games that insult the intelligence of it’s fans does nothing but highlight how silly & entirely unnecessary this whole gimmick sprint format is.

    If it was a really good, sensible addition we wouldn’t have these silly issues & they wouldn’t have to constantly try & explain away these sorts of things which we can all see through.

    They can claim that whoever is fastest in qualifying is the pole sitter but for everyone who tunes into the real race on Sunday whoever is on pole position will be who they consider the pole sitter. Just stop this gimmick farce already!

    #LibertyOut #StopTheGimmicks #NoToSprints

    1. yes please. no gimmicks all racing.

      Unfortunately F1 may devolve into nothing more than filler for a Netflix miniseries if they keep this kind of stuff up. They will draw in new fans from TV and alienate many of the racing fans who have been following the sport for decades.

    2. I think having a sprint race on Saturday would be a fair point. But just if it is separate from the actual Grand Prix, maybe Qualifying session could et the pole for the Sprint Race and the Grand Prix, and the sprint race giving some points.

  4. The easiest way to clear up the confusion around the “true” pole position would be to steal what Nascar does at the Daytona 500 and lock the fastest driver in qualifying into pole position for both the qualifying race and the real race. Let pole position for the main show be awarded, as nature intended, to the fastest single-lap qualifier, and the qualifying race can determine the starting order for the rest of the field. (The pole winner would still be free to compete, of course, for the 8 points on offer.)

    If F1 wanted to give the Saturday race more of its own standalone identity, another option would be to set the full grid for Sunday like normal in Friday qualifying, but set the Saturday grid based on the second-fastest lap set by a driver in the last round (Q1, Q2, or Q3) that they participate in. That way, you can essentially ignore how the Saturday grid is shaping up and know that by looking at the fastest laps, you’re seeing the fight for Sunday’s grid. But it raises the stakes on the first qualifying runs of a session, since if a driver messes up, it still counts for Saturday. You could get some mixed-up grids that way, but to me, it’s not a gimmick because the format is punishing genuine mistakes and demanding perfection on every run.

    1. IIRC the problem is that Todd didnt allowed that saturday sprints to be called races. So, the only way to run a third of a GP on saturday was to call it qualifying.

    2. I like this, but with the simplification of just take the best time of Q1.

  5. @juliangoddard @silfen I see a lot looking at it from the perspective of the race start/opening stint on Saturday with a 24hr red flag & continuation on Sunday but for me that actually makes me like it less & does start to make it feel like it’s taking something away from the GP.

    I like the normal weekend format because I like how it builds tension, excitement & anticipation. Friday been more laid back, Less tense & more about getting into the weekend. Then Saturday starts to ramp up, FP3 is more important with the focus been on qualifying & then qualifying itself building into a crescendo at the end which then leads into the GP. Going into Sunday i’m then super hyped for the start with the build-up building that up more so that i’m super excited for the start of the GP & also the uncertainties we usually go into the opening stint with.

    The sprint weekend for me just doesn’t work because your straight into an FP1 that is suddenly a lot more manic with a lot more going on to the point that it’s difficult to really take anything in. Then we’re straight into qualifying which just lacks some of the excitement it usually does since it isn’t what decides the grid for the GP, It sort of builds tension in the same way but ultimately never feels quite as special at the end & simply changing it so that whoever ends up fastest can be called the pole sitter doesn’t fix that for me. Then we suddenly have to come down as we’re into the Saturday FP2 that feels largely irrelevant which then brings us to the sprint which gives us a lot of the build up we usually get going into the GP & then a race start & ‘opening stint’. Then it sort of ends with less fanfare or excitement we usually get after qualifying or a GP which just makes it feel a bit flat at the end.

    And then we get to the GP on Sunday. Having seen a race build up & start the day before I found for the 3 last year that i’m not as hyped or excited as I usually would be because the stuff that usually builds that have already happened once. So the start of the GP just lacks that excitement that it has on a normal weekend. And then the opening stint also lacks some of the interest it usually has because the questions we usually go into it with (How will the tyres act, Where is everyone’s race pace at, How will the racing play out in terms of overtaking possibilities etc…) have been answered the day before so that again for me just feels a bit flat compared to normal.

  6. Maybe once the crypto bros crash and burn this silly sprint race marketing idea will also be delegated to the dustbin of history.

  7. F1 cheapened itself far too much last year, with sprint races and with other things. There are some egos unwilling to admit their mistakes too.

    No longer is F1 the pinnacle of motor sport, it’s just another show.

  8. If we must have these Sprint races, then why can’t they be held on Friday and allow the Grand Prix qualifying and race untouched?

    It would result in Friday practice being for the sprint, and then a useful Saturday morning practice for the qualifying and Grand Prix.

  9. Really coving the important issues……

  10. I am not necessarily against the new ideas…I dont hate them as much as many of the fans do; in fact, am intrigued. I want to know how it plays out during a season. Three sprints with points for the top 3 doesn’t really land a punch on the standings unless the sprint race was introduced during other race weekends much to the dismay of fans. But increase the stakes and it could get just a bit more interesting–maybe not with what happens on the track but the outcome has a greater chance of deciding the standings in the WCC and WDC.

    That 1 hour of racing on Saturday now makes even more sense for 8 drivers rather than just 3. I understand that awarding points for the top 10 in the Sprint makes it more or less a shortened race thats held on Sunday; not much novelty there.
    The disappointment here is that the pole position during a sprint weekend was an afterthought last year and with this new proposal, not much changes.

  11. Another fine example of the inflexibility and stubbornness of both F1 insiders and F1 fans.

    To be honest – I’m getting more enjoyment from watching everyone complain and argue about F1 and its off-track antics than I am from what’s happening on the track. Human behaviour is simply fascinating.
    If only F1’s on-track product was regularly even 10% as interesting as all this drama…. Sadly, on the odd occasion it is, though, it all descends into controversy, debate and conspiracy theories. Hardly anyone just enjoys it for what it is anymore.

  12. Whenever you can fine tune a sport to a better show without changing decade-long traditions, you ought to do that.
    If you try to turn a sport in a better show via changing decade-long tradition and it won’t really help, just don’t.

  13. The only way to solve is to give the quickest guy(s) of Friday, who lose that position on Saturday, a grid penalty.

    It seems that the ‘fragile statisticians’ only accept losing a pole through a penalty, and it totally upsets their world if it happens as part of competitive racing. :P

  14. Pretending otherwise would only make those in charge look ignorant of basic racing terminology, or so arrogant they believe they have a monopoly on the language of motorsport.

    Very 1984-ish, i don’t like it when people use that book to describe stuff that’s happening nowadays but it really feels like they’re trying to tell us what to think.

    If the sprint race is here to stay the increase in points allocation is a welcome change for me, but i’d much rather not have it decide the grid for the main race, someone on reddit suggested the sprint race grid is determined by the Q1 classification and let the rest of Friday qualifying run its normal course to determine the grid for the main race. I can’t find any downsides to that other than maybe the occasional technical infringement or DSQ (Hamilton in Brazil for example) but that’s all part of the game

  15. The Sprint isn’t inherently bad from the point of view that F1, and probably all the spectators, want to see more of the cars on the track in competitive situations for more of the weekend. The issue is it detracting from the actual Grand Prix, literally the big prize!

    So separate them..

    Have the points for the Sprint be the same as the points for the World Championship, but not be World Championship points. Run it as a separate Sprint championship.

    To keep the weekend format the same (I like the single FP before Quali to their the teams a few curve balls and reduce the amount of data they have) have the result of Q1 set the grid for the Sprint, Q2 remains a knockout session, and Q3 sets the Pole and top 10 order for the GP.

    The big teams can’t then just run hard tyres and “coast” through Q1 if they want a decent place in the Sprint, but if they’re fighting for the WC and don’t care about it, they can choose not to.

  16. I think the solution to the issues raised by the Sprint is just to keep it separate from having an effect on the main GP, but to still award championship points to it. I am sure someone must have come up with this idea before but no one seems to suggest it as a solution.

    So they have a qualifying for the main GP on Friday which sets the grid for the Sunday. They could then, as some have suggested, use part of the result of the qualifying on Friday to set the grid for the sprint on Saturday. The sprint race takes place on Saturday, with the points set by the FIA which do contribute to the two championships. However, the result of the sprint does not set the grid for the main GP on Sunday. This is still set on Friday’s qualifying result with the pole sitter being the fastest qualifier.

    This seems like the obvious solution to me. The sprints are still then important and contribute some points to the two champs, but they don’t affect the main race. The sprints would need to be kept to a minimum though as would the points. So that these do not overly or adversely affect the main GPs and their importance.

  17. Oh. c’mon, please someone stop all these antics!
    Very soon the scoring system will become more arcane than F1 technical regulations rulebook!

  18. I can deal with Pole being the fastest in qualifying. Cos all the sprint is, is an extension to the race with a mandatory overnight red flag! You don’t award pole for someone starting 1st after a red flag grid re-start. That’s all the Sunday race is to me…

  19. That is why my statistics (http://www.gpfactsandnumbers.com/statistics/) differentiate between the fastest qualifying lap and pole position…always did.

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