Sprint race start, Imola, 2022

Will F1’s ‘two-day grand prix’ format enliven its underwhelming sprint races?

2023 F1 season

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Let’s start with the good news. Formula 1 has expunged one of the worst features of the sprint races it introduced two years ago.

Following a meeting of the teams today, with the first of this year’s six sprint races just four days away, F1 has announced further changes to its rules with a separate ‘Sprint Shootout’ qualifying session being introduced. This will decide the starting order for the sprint race, while the grand prix grid is unaffected and set by a qualifying session held on Friday.

This corrects the flaw in the format which was demonstrated most clearly by the last sprint round, the 2022 Brazilian Grand Prix. On that occasion Haas’s Kevin Magnussen mastered changing conditions in qualifying to perfection, defeating drivers from a string of better-funded teams with faster cars to be fastest in Q3.

His superb performance deserved to be rewarded with the prestige of pole position for the grand prix. However come Sunday’s race that place at the front of the grid was occupied by Mercedes’ George Russell.

F1’s first sprint race winner is no fan of the format
He had won the Saturday sprint race which decided the starting order for the grand prix, while Magnussen inevitably sank down the order in his otherwise uncompetitive Haas. He was unlucky to have performed his giant-killing qualifying feat on a sprint race weekend.

While F1 declared Magnussen was the Brazilian GP pole winner, the pole position contradiction was a fault in the sprint race format which was inevitably going to surface at some point. The new sprint rules announced today corrects that.

More broadly, F1’s move to ‘standalone’ sprint races – with the grand prix occupying the two days either side of ‘sprint Saturday’ – can be seen as an implicit acknowledgement that they have not produced a spectacle of sufficient quality to meet the endless, breathless hype bestowed on the new format by the series and its broadcasters.

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While F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali likes to characterise the format’s detractors as mostly “old fans”, the sport’s 25-year-old two-times world champion has proved one of the most trenchant critics of sprint races. Max Verstappen articulated the shortcomings of the format earlier this month.

Race start, Baku Street Circuit, 2022
Baku will hold its first sprint race this weekend
“For me a sprint race is all about surviving,” he said. “It’s not about racing. For me, when you have a quick car, there’s nothing to risk. I prefer to just keep my car alive and make sure that you have a good race car for Sunday.”

Verstappen understands the value of winning sprint races, having taken more victories in them than any other driver. The key test of whether the revised format is a success will be whether it provokes drivers to push harder in the pursuit of victory.

It will likely be a few races before we can definitely judge whether standalone sprint races are more exciting than the ‘sprint qualifying’ races they replace. What is clear is that drivers and teams will know they no longer have to reach the chequered flag in the sprint race to ensure the best possible starting position in the grand prix.

So at what point in this Saturday’s 17-lap race does the driver running in 20th place decide he has no realistic chance of reaching the top eight (the positions that award points in sprint races) and therefore may as well pit to preserve their engine mileage and stock of rubber for the following day? Granted, Baku is the kind of track where some kind of drama could upend the running order, and staying on-track could pay off, but that calculation may change elsewhere.

The revised format is due to appear a total of six times during 2023. This weekend’s sprint event will be followed further editions at the Red Bull Ring, Spa-Francorchamps, Losail, Circuit of the Americas and Interlagos. That will double the total number of sprint events F1 has ever held, and should allow it to draw useful conclusions whether ‘standalone sprint’ or ‘sprint qualifying’ can provide a better alternative to regular grand prix weekends.

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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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  • 22 comments on “Will F1’s ‘two-day grand prix’ format enliven its underwhelming sprint races?”

    1. I don’t know. Oh well, only one way to find out…

      1. calmly browsing through tv guide. F1 sprint shootout.. nah. F1 sprint.. nah.. Bold and Beautifull ep 5440. Yes.

        1. Coventry Climax
          27th April 2023, 0:21


    2. While F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali likes to characterise the format’s detractors as mostly “old fans”,

      Why doesn’t he go the whole Trump road and start referring to us as FINO “Fans In Name Only” and our comments as “fake news”

      As to the question from the link page

      But is a better system being introduced this weekend?

      Frankly, no.
      If they want extra entertainment in the three day period, fine, let them do it. A racing session for future drivers with its own quali, should fit the Friday slots and leave the F1 grand event (it’s a Grand Prix remember) with two days. No link between current drivers and the F1-lite show on Friday though.

      1. Im 27, Ive been watching for over a decade and I hate the sprint. Same for my mates. So its not just “old fans”.

    3. Yes (@come-on-kubica)
      25th April 2023, 21:55

      Nooe but at least they can dump the format on one day. I can’t see a single driver risking it on sprint day – what’s the point? Like these extra races what’s the point? More content to sell is all.

      1. Either they dump it, or they start handing out more points to make it more worthwhile for teams/drivers @come-on-kubica. I guess that second one is more likely to happen, since they seem convinced that having these “sprints” in there is good for F1.

        I guess this format with seperate qualifying for the race instead of the sprint making the grid is a tad more sensible since it stops the sprint from ruining an interesting grid. But I still don’t see much to look forward to.

    4. One of the worst things about the Sprint weekend format, old or new, is the Qualifying session we’ve been used to for years now happens on Friday, which means many people may not be able to watch live.
      Qualifying always has a certain level of suspense, which I do not believe the Sprint races will have.

    5. It all looks thoroughly whelming to be honest.

    6. Friday qualifying should be for the sprint race.
      Saturday qualifying should be for the main race.
      Basically a 2 race weekend.
      i often find that the best part of F1 is the qualifying.
      Why hold it on Friday when a significant portion of enthusiasts won’t be able to watch it?
      Brand-damaging madness.

      1. @juliangoddard agree! makes no sense to put sunday qualy on friday then making saturday a whole different event altogether.

      2. Good question! that would make sense, yeah @juliangoddard.

    7. Friday



      Sprint 1 In order of the qualifying
      Sprint 2 Reverse grid from the S1



      I wouldn’t be surprised if we could see this kind of schedule even in next year or somewhere in the future

      1. I’m going a bit rogue here but then in S1 they could get qualifying and sprint race in one shot! I bet it will raise something in the F1HQ

      2. I’d go more with:
        Session 1 – Practice
        Session 2 – Sprint race in reverse championship points order,
        Session 1 – Practice, a minimum of one driver per team with a driver who hasn’t started 6 F1 GPs
        Session 2 – Qualifying

    8. If these sprints would have happened way before liberty era sport would have been close to a “final nail in the coffin” situation. Now as F1 is more popular than ever it has a chance to try new ideas without the risk of losing too many fans.
      I don’t know what a “new fan” thinks of this situation. Does it see F1 as a sport that is changing for the better or as a sport that doesn’t know what it is and what it wants to become.

    9. It’s a bit silly that Sprint quali is almost twice as long as the Sprint itself.

    10. You can have four or five or however many qualifying sessions and all kinds of different races, but it won’t make the sport more interesting if 9 out of 10 teams can’t make a competitive car, and some of those aren’t even trying to.

    11. Now, if we can just get the points removed from the main championship, we could just ignore the whole damn thing and get back to normal. Let the “Sprint” (and I use the term advisedly) have it’s own points & championship and a lot of my unease about the whole thing goes away!

    12. They can tweak Sprint races as they want, but a flawed concept since it’s inception that was never asked by anyone is not going to change the fact that this was never work out in first place. If they think 3 practice sessions are too much, just mandate one of the practice sessions to be done by reserve drivers only. This will enable 2 reserve drivers per team to have meaningful running other than driving in simulator 90% of the time, letting less time for race drivers to drive and get ready for the races.

    Comments are closed.