Logan Sargeant, Williams, Baku City Circuit, 2023

F1 drivers will use new sprint races as “test sessions” if they’re outside points

2023 Azerbaijan Grand Prix

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The changes to Formula 1’s sprint race format which have been made to produce more action could have the opposite effect in some cases, drivers believe.

Formula 1 has revised the sprint race format which will be used at six rounds this year, starting with this weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix. While the Saturday races were previously used to decide the starting order for the grand prix, this will no longer be the case.

Friday’s qualifying session will now decide the grid for the grand prix. An extra qualifying session, called the ‘sprint shootout’, will take place instead of second practice, to decide the starting order for the sprint race. The sprint race will continue to pay the same number of points as before, but it will not determine the starting order for the race.

As drivers no longer need to fear compromising their grid position for the grand prix if they crash in the sprint race, F1 expects the changes to the format will encourage them to take more risks.

However as points are only awarded to the top eight positions in the sprint race, and lower finishes have no bearing on a driver’s championship position, those in the lower half of the field may find they have little to fight for.

Williams driver Logan Sargeant said drivers who find themselves outside the points positions early in the 17-lap sprint race will have little incentive to push flat-out until the end. “I think in that situation you will find yourself using it to, just realistically, gather information for the GP on Sunday,” he said.

“At the same time things can get crazy into turn one and you find yourself in a good position where you can score some points. So anything could happen, especially here. But I think if you find yourself not in the points after the first six, seven laps or so, then you’re going to use it more as a test session.”

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However the nature of the Baku City Circuit where this weekend’s event is being held could increase the potential rewards for those further down the grid.

Mercedes front wings, Baku City Circuit, 2023
Some teams have brought plenty of spare front wings to Baku
“I think it’s going to be a eventful,” he said in response to a question from RaceFans. “If you look at it in an opportunistic type of way, then it can be good. You definitely have to keep out of trouble because I’m sure it’s going to be hectic. But I’m just going to take what’s put down, I guess.”

Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu said the drivers in the “bigger teams” will be more willing to race hard as they have larger supplies of spare parts.

“For us, we always try to fight, but we still need to make sure we’re not damaging any parts because obviously we’re not like the very big teams,” he said. “We have upgrades, front wings at the track so we still have to manage in a way.

“But it definitely gives us a little bit less stress on lap one in the sprint races so we can really just fight for the positions.”

However Zhou expects he will feel emboldened to take more chances in the new-style sprint races. “Always we try to [gain places] because obviously it’s only [the] top eight who get the points.

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“But compared to the previous years, I think the biggest difference is the way that drivers approach the opening laps or with the Safety Car restarts. We definitely can take more risk because if we try to fight for position and even will make mistakes, there’s more to gain than to lose, for example. So in that way it definitely can make the race more exciting.”

But Zhou admitted he still prefers the classic grand prix format over the sprint events. “Obviously, in general, as a driver, I still like the standard format,” he said. “But I think with the current format adjustments on last year based on the sprint, it’s better here.

“For example in Imola I got taken out at turn one and I had to start the race at the back. So damage limitation has definitely been improved.”

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2023 Azerbaijan Grand Prix

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    Author information

    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...
    Claire Cottingham
    Claire has worked in motorsport for much of her career, covering a broad mix of championships including Formula One, Formula E, the BTCC, British...

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    28 comments on “F1 drivers will use new sprint races as “test sessions” if they’re outside points”

    1. Interesting but not unexpected.

    2. Evidently the reason Williams and Alfa Romeo aren’t fighting for the top positions is that they need a format that will “encourage them to take more risks.”

      Now if only there was a way to give every position meaning. Not something plebeian like Indycar’s points for all positions scheme… but an additional Slow Car Sprint session (and qualifying!) where positions 11 through 20 get special Slow Points that can be converted into real F1 Championship points at any point in the season, but – to boost engagement – at a variable exchange rate that’s decided by a weekly Twitter poll.

      1. Coventry Climax
        27th April 2023, 16:11

        I expect you to be invited to work for the FIA shortly. They love people who come up with pointless (pun intended) gimmicks.

    3. Tim (@tsgoodchild)
      27th April 2023, 12:22

      Prediction for rule change in 2024: Points down to 20th place.

      1. I certainly hope so. It’s long overdue.

      2. couldntstopmyself
        27th April 2023, 13:37

        The best way for a sprint to work, as an exciting addition to the weekend, is:
        – use a reverse grid based on race quali;
        – award points to all positions.
        (- remove DRS)

        But changes to a GP weekend are not very popular here.

        1. Tim (@tsgoodchild)
          27th April 2023, 13:51

          Its all a mess really. The Sprint Saturday now sits solely on its own, so they could implement any rules for it as it has no bearing on the actual main event – they even said they could make decisions on penalties that sit wholly outside of the jurisdiction of a normal grand prix.

          Personally I have wanted to see points down to all finishing positions for many years for the main grand prix. There are always battles lower down the grid and even if you have a bad race, fighting for a few points in 18th is better than retiring and getting nothing. Anyway, in true American style we have to get ready to rumble…

      3. Coventry Climax
        27th April 2023, 16:31

        I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: If there’s 20 cars at the start, and you finish 1st, you’ve beaten 19 cars. So it would make sense to have the points awarded, directly relate to how many contestants you’ve beaten. The maximum would always be (the number of cars at the start, minus 1) down to 0 points for the last car as that did not beat any other car.
        Now you could also double that or triple, quadruple or whatever, in order to have a bigger points difference over consecutive finishing positions, thus creating a bigger incentive to fight for places. Then divide the points total (at the end of the season?) by 10 or whatever, if you feel the total amount of points get out of hand. We measure laptimes with many digits behind the first whole unit, so why not do that with points as well? That would be just cosmetic, but whatever.
        One drawback I can hear people say is that it’s no longer possible to compare things to historic results. But that’s simple: Recalculate those as well according to the same, new scheme. Shouldn’t be a problem. I’ve actually done that in my own alltime results database, registering points for all results, according to the different schemes we’ve had over time, as well as what I suggest here. Nope, sorry, stopped registering things, and using it, a while ago. Don’t feel it’s worth my time anymore, lately.

        1. Coventry Climax
          27th April 2023, 16:34

          Oh, and as for sprints: a Tiny Prix has no place in a GRAND Prix to start with. Ditch them, now.

    4. That’s the way I would play it as well if I was near the back. Big divebomb at the start to see if I could jump a bunch of places and if not, I’d back away from the field and treat the rest of the sprint as a test session. If there’s a safety car or even better, a red flag, everyone gets bunched up anyway so there’s not much point in putting much stress through the car just to hang on to 16th. At the very first hint that a single component in the car isn’t behaving perfectly, I’d be straight into the pits to protect the car for the proper race on Sunday.

    5. Makes sense. If it has no bearing on the GP, then why bother fighting for no points and, AFAIK, no effect on count-back? I could even see most drivers from 12th down retiring early to save engines and avoid risk of damage.

      I know I keep saying it and many disagree, but this is where a reverse grid of some form would be good. All drivers/teams want every point they can get, so the top drivers would push to get back into the points, the midfield would push to get as many as they could, and the bottom end would push to try to grab a few, potentially crucial, points. It would likely lead to on-track battles all through the field for the vast majority of the race.

      1. A reverse grid would be an abomination. Allowing sprints has given licence to the Pandora’s Box of suggestions. The idea action should be manufactured in such a manner is detestable. Reverse grids are for lower formula to ensure there’s a wide spread of attention for drivers so those individuals can satisfy sponsors and keep funding in place. It has no place in a proper high-level racing contest. We all suspect it’s on the agenda at Liberty HQ though.

        1. Well said. Sprint races are an abomination and must be gone.

        2. I disagree.

          If the sprint is to stay, it should actually be a sprint, i.e. all driver pushing from start to finish. There is no better incentive than a reverse grid, preferably reverse championship order. Those who start at the front will push to stay as far forward as possible, and those who start at the back will push to gain places.

          F1 has always lined drivers up in performance order, and then wondered why so many races are processions with little to no overtaking. If the car/driver pair in front of you is faster than you, you’re unlikely to overtake them. We generally see the most overtaking on the rare occasions when the grid is mixed up.

          A secondary, but important, benefit of a reverse grid is that the top teams would need their cars to be good at overtaking to do well. This means they’re likely to
          – put their engineers to work on making the cars work well at this, and
          – lobby for/support regulations which make the cars better for overtaking.

          Complain all you want, but sprints are probably better to stay. Surely, therefore, we should be looking to see them used in the best possible way? IMHO, reverse grids (preferably reverse championship order) are the best way to use them.

          1. In fact, I could see the potential for adding a separate, but linked, sprint championship. This is just off the top of my head, but something shopping the lines of:

            No WCC or WDC points are directly awarded for the sprints. Preferably run them at every weekend, with the grid in reverse championship order, and award points to every finisher (1 point for 20th to 20 points for first, only if they cross the finish line).

            At the end of the season, have a ceremony and prize money for the sprint championship, but also count the finishing positions as the equivalent of one race for WDC and WCC.

            The effect on the normal championships is small, but important enough that all teams should still try to do as well as possible. It gives everyone a better chance to shine, especially good drivers in bad cars. And it should make for an exciting race, with everyone pushing start to finish.

      2. couldntstopmyself
        27th April 2023, 13:41

        I Agree.
        (I didn’t read you comment, before replying above)

    6. I’m with Sargeant – I expect some teams to pull out or use the sprints for data gathering (or rest time and for saving parts/wear) rather than for competitive purposes now that it won’t set the grid. They’ve removed the primary incentive for teams (particularly slower teams) to participate seriously.
      It’s not like that time is particularly beneficial to them from a commercial aspect either, as the cameras won’t be pointing at the backmarkers.

      It seems that, once again, F1 has bowed to the traditionalists who wish to hold F1 back. Decoupling the sprint and the GP simply ruins the entire event progression. The sprint has to be completely absorbed into the event structure for it to work – it can’t just be an additional add-on.
      We want more competitive track time, but it really needs to be competitive for everyone.
      Yeah, it’s better than a practice session – but it will now be less ‘better’ than it was.

    7. Not much different from the main race then.

      1. @uzsjgb The key difference is in the grand prix if you finish 11th or lower, that classification can still affect your championship position (e.g. if two drivers are tied on points and ‘count back’ of positions is used). That is not the case in the sprint race – ninth and below on Saturday has absolutely no value now, whereas before it set their starting position for Sunday.

    8. Good points, drivers below P8 will indeed have less to fight for under normal circumstances, & while the sprint won’t directly impact the race starting order anymore, a crash could still lead to a pit lane start if enough damage occurs for a monocoque change or a driver gets a grid penalty for an on-track infringement.

    9. The sprint race has become a 30-minute session now. Awarding points for all 20 drivers seems a bit generous to me.

      1. @webtel 30 min has always been the default reference time given on schedules, although the session times themselves have, of course, varied both below & above.

        1. @jerejj
          my bad. For some reason, i always thought sprint race to be a 60 min session.
          Shows how much i care about this gimmick :-D
          nonetheless, its good that it stands disconnected from the race on sunday.

    10. I said so as soon as the new format was announced.

      Having the Sunday grid decided on friday leaves room for someone qualifying well on friday, having a terrible saturday sprint qualy and having absolutely no incentive to risk anything on saturday afternoon.

      It can and will happen. Not sure if they are forced to start or anything… but given the sprint race is so short, the risk is so high and the reward so little, if a Hamilton, Verstappen or whoever with proper chances on sunday find themselves in the back rows on saturday, why even bother starting the race in the first place?

      1. Not only that, but nearly half the grid have near-zero chance of any points in the sprint, and they don’t even get the benefit of count-back. The only people with any incentive to push are those in 12th (being generous) and above. Anyone from 12th back may as well just use it as a practice session, staying out of the way of anyone else (especially those who may actually be racing).

    11. If teams want to abuse the sprint races for their own ends than that’s fine with me.
      Sprint races have been added in order to appeal to people who like to see cars going fast – not the F1 fans.

      The non fans get to see and hear fast cars.
      The teams get to do what they want/need to do.
      The F1 fans get to moan about everything as usual :)

    12. So there will be enough practise sessions after all! This is what you get when you’re desperate to fix something that works and start adding the wrong parts.

      1. Except, as I understand it, parc ferme rules apply after the first practice session, so no set-up changes or new parts.

    Comments are closed.