After three introductory races last season, Formula 1’s polarising sprint race format will return with three more events for the 2022 season after all ten teams unanimously agreed to include them into this year’s Sporting Regulations.
However, there are a few minor changes to the format coming into effect this season – with some crucial ones meaning that the three sprint races could have a much bigger impact on the final standings in both the drivers’ and constructors’ championships at the end of the year.
First, the session will no longer be referred to as “sprint qualifying”, but now simply as the “sprint”.
The finishing order of the sprint race will set the grid order for Sunday’s grand prix. However, the driver quickest at the end of Friday’s typical qualifying session will be deemed to have taken ‘pole position’ for that weekend for statistical purposes, even if they do not start the grand prix itself from the prime grid slot.
Most importantly, the winner of each sprint will now receive eight championship points, increased from three. Points are also extended down to eighth place, with each position offering one point less than the position above it down to just a single point for the driver finishing in eighth place.
So are these revisions to the sprint race formula an improvement over the format’s debut last season, or a step in the wrong direction?
The increased points weighting for sprint races is undoubtedly an attempt to encourage drivers to take more risks and pass rivals during sprints as they proved relatively pedestrian affairs last year – save for Lewis Hamilton’s charge through the pack in Interlagos prompted by his disqualification from Friday qualifying.
With more on the line, there’s more of an incentive to have a go at a rival if you get a decent run on them, especially if you’re sitting in one of the top ten positions. There are also more opportunities for teams further down the order to snatch vital points if the grid is shaken up during Friday’s qualifying.
And as the sprint race will continue to set the grid order for Sunday, there’s still a chance of some dramatic fightbacks from the established frontrunners this season if they get into any kind of trouble in the sprint race.
With a record 23 races already set for this season, there are already more than enough points on offer to decide a worthy world champion in 2022 without three more sprint races to be added into the mix.
Rather than offer more opportunities to teams further back, it’s more likely that the extended points on offer will simply allow the teams at the front of the field to consolidate their positions and move even further ahead of the pack in the championships. And with Sunday offering the real rewards, drivers will always want to play it safe and prioritise the more important race of the weekend.
Finally, the sprint race continuing to set the grid order for the grand prix adds too much emphasis on what happens on a Saturday afternoon after drivers have already earned their grid positions by virtue of their performances in Friday’s qualifying.
If sprint races are going to continue to be something that Formula 1 insists on subjecting fans to, then the ideal scenario would have been to make them less important to the overall championship standings – not even more of a factor.
It’s difficult to accept that an idea conjured up purely to add some long-sought after improvement to ‘the show’ would be given even more weighting in a season that is already 23 races long. A sprint race concept could be added to a series purely as a points-paying race on Saturday if needs be, but the fact it continues to set the grid order for the grand prix is still a difficult thing to accept.
Not only does it mean that three out of 23 rounds will run on a different format – when consistency in the rules is something fans have been increasingly vocal in wanting – it feels like a cynical way to try and create more drama into the sport by manufacturing conditions where there’s a much greater chance of an accident or a mechanical failure dropping a championship contender to the rear of the field.
Even with more points on offer, there’s nothing to suggest that teams and drivers will treat sprint races this year in any different manner than they did last year – effectively as the first 100 kilometres of a 400km grand prix, split by a long red flag period.
Hopefully 2022’s new regulations will lead to some exciting racing this season. But even with these revisions, it’s unlikely that sprint races will be among the more memorable moments of the year.
Do you agree that F1's sprint race rules for 2022 are an improvement over last year?
- No opinion (3%)
- Strongly disagree (38%)
- Slightly disagree (16%)
- Neither agree nor disagree (16%)
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Total Voters: 153
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