Race start, Circuit of the Americas, 2023

F1 needs to take an ‘open and honest look’ at sprint race shortcomings – Horner

Formula 1

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Red Bull team principal Christian Horner admitted Formula 1 needs to take another look at how to address the shortcoming of its sprint race format.

F1 introduced sprint races in 2021 and has revised them every year since then as it tries to address criticism of the format. Horner admitted the races lack drama and force strict limits upon how teams may alter their cars, which caused problems at last weekend’s United States Grand Prix.

“For me, parc ferme is a bit of a joke,” said Horner. “You have one session to set your car up and then the engineers may as well go home at that point. That needs looking at and that I’m sure was a contributing factor to the right height issues [for] the teams that fell foul of the regulations [in Austin].

“Effectively it’s just a long run on a sprint race and there’s no real jeopardy to it. There’s no real incentive behind it.”

Horner’s driver Max Verstappen has won more sprint races than anyone and clinched the drivers’ championship in one at Qatar. But he remains a staunch critic of the format and has repeatedly called for F1 to drop it.

However Horner believes its shortcomings can be addressed. “I think it just needs to be looked at and modified to say how can it be improved? How can we make this better? How can it be more satisfying for the drivers?

“If the drivers enjoy it and find it rewarding and the teams find it rewarding, then I think the fans ultimately will. But I think we should really go to the fans and get their feedback, as well of what is it that they want?”

F1 increased the number of sprint races from three to six this year and for the first time made them standalone events which did not decide the starting order for the grand prix. With one sprint race remaining in Brazil next week, Horner said F1 needs to take another look at their popularity once the season is over.

“It’d be interesting to look at the data at the end of the year of how popular have the sprint races been because, at the end of the day, it’s all about the fans and the reason we do sprint races is to try and provide more entertainment to create a more attractive event.

“I think that it’s still a very new concept. And I think we have to be honest with ourselves and like I [say] we can always improve the car, I think we can always improve the format.

“We need to look openly and honestly at the end of the year, when we’ve got all the samples of the sprint races and say ‘okay, what can we do better, what can be learned, and how can we improve the spectacle and the event and I think there’s many things that could be done to improve it.”

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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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21 comments on “F1 needs to take an ‘open and honest look’ at sprint race shortcomings – Horner”

  1. In some ways the constant changes to the sprint format, and the clamour for more, different changes, reminds me of the struggles F1 had with the qualifying format in the early 2000s. Nobody really thought the pre-2003 system was broken, but various attempts at a single-lap format were attempted and quickly abandoned – sometimes even in mid-season (like in 2005 when they got rid of the aggregate system after a few rounds). Eventually they recognised the format was terrible and got rid of it.

    It feels like F1 is going through the same motions again, desperately trying to make the sprint format work without considering that actually, maybe it’s fundamentally broken and should just be abandoned. You’re left wondering how many more futile iterations we will go through before F1 finally bows to the inevitable.

    1. Eventually they recognised the format was terrible and got rid of it.

      Let’s be clear, Horner isn’t saying let’s get rid of sprints… From his most recent comments we all know what he means by this, “How can we improve the spectacle and the event and I think there’s many things that could be done to improve it.”

      1. Sincerely, I think those quotes from Horner is the most polite possible way to say “sprints dont work, harm preparation to Sunday race and we should get rid of them”.
        That said, F1 should either fully embrace that gimmickery and adopt reverse grids, or embrace saturday as a race on par with the sunday race.
        I am not opposed to alternative formats. Lets say a 600km in Spa with double points.
        Maybe F1 should try the supercars system – a certain amount of points are an play each weekend and as distributed proportianally to the race length. IIRC, sometimes they have three 100km races on a weekend. A similar arrangement would be adequate to tracks like barcelona or monaco, where two shorter races make more sense than a 300km races in which nothing happens.

    2. @red-andy I’m not sure that example supports the point you’re trying to make, because after all those experiments with the qualifying format, they eventually settled on the 3-stage qualifying format we have now. And while everyone will have their own opinions, I believe overall most fans agree this is the best qualifying format we’ve ever had in F1.

      1. The three-stage qualifying format only emerged because it was finally acknowledged that the single-lap format was irredeemably bad. Only when they ripped up the concept and started again did they come up with something that worked.

        1. @red-andy But that is also my point. They only discovered the single-lap qualifying format was irredeemable because of all the testing they did to come to that conclusion. They had also experimented with various alternative formats, so they new the potential benefits and drawbacks of those. So, using all that knowledge previously accumulated, they came up with the 3 stage format which is in my opinion at least the best qualifying format we’ve had in F1.

  2. I think the problem is that it is not different enough from the grand prix, and that is where the reverse grid suggestions come from, but I don’t think that’s the only way to create a different product.

    How about they bring a sprint spec tyre, which has very low degradation? Would that result in a different kind of race if the drivers can push for the full twenty laps? We also don’t need a full qualifying session again after watching it the day before – let’s just have a 10 minute qualifying (on the sprint tyres) and then go right into the race. Make it a separate championship and loosen up the parc ferme rules so they can set their cars up differently for the sprint vs the grand prix.

    Personally I’d be excited to watch that.

    1. I think the main problem for a worthwhile sprint format is the power unit management restrictions.
      It is very rare to see a full on attack on sprint – beyond the first 2-3 laps.
      I suspect this is less related to tyres than to the risks for the power unit as, for all purpose, current PUs have limited use at the most aggressive maps, that can be properly used on the sunday race, and not on a “race” awarding a third of the usual points.

      1. Plus, consider that each PU is expected to work for around 3000-4000km (counting practices, quali and races). There is no point in risking performance on the rest of the time to gain a position on sprint that would mean and additional point.
        Maybe the solution would be a sprint PU that would not be used on other sessions, but the sprint (quali and race);

    2. I agree with most of the criticism about sprint races. But then I rarely watch practice but never miss a sprint race. So I am a bit on the fence on the whole issue.

      I find your idea about a low-deg sprint spec tyre appealing, but what I would really want to watch for the sprint races are spec cars, pretty much the same for all the drivers. Then the usual cars would run the GP races on Sundays. That would put an end to all the excuses about some driver’s rocketships (the most abused term at Racefans).

      And yes, I understand that this is highly unlikely impractical, with all the teams having to maintain two different sets of cars. Although surely the cost of the spec cars would be much lower.

  3. Well, only having competitive sessions under parc ferme effect is better than having a single practice session within that phase.

  4. I think they should do it all on a Friday. Have a practice, a sprint shootout then a sprint and also make it a separate championship. Then on Saturday practice then qualifying then grand prix on Sunday. This way they could test all the ideas they want to try i.e reverse grids and those who want to watch it can do and those who like it the normal way of practice, qualifying then race and just tune in for that.

    The only reason I have watched the sprints is because it has points for the championships. Although I have to say the sprint shootout is better than a waste of time FP2 stuck under parc ferme rules.

    As I have always said: I don’t mind when its a sprint weekend and I don’t miss it when its not.

  5. I think the main problem with the sprint format is that it exists.

    1. I think the main problem with the sprint format is that it exists.

      This.
      If they want an F1-style entertainment, put aspiring F1 drivers in the seats of last year’s car for a short race and run that for as many weekends as is feasible.

  6. How about practicing on Friday, qualifying (Q1 – Q2 – Q3) on Saturday, and then having the Grand Prix race on the Sunday?

    Also, how about letting the Andrettis in?
    How about opening up for 1-car privateer teams?
    How about letting small teams just run a few select races and how about not forcing everyone to be multi-billionaires before they even start?
    How about zero restrictions on pit stops and use of tyres? Run the whole race on one single set of hard tyres if you think you can get away with it.

    This endless messing about puts me off.
    It’s a first world problem I know but still…

    Finally, how about setting a min+max weight plus min+max measurements for the cars and then no more rules at all? Let teams do whatever they want within that framework. See what happens when innovation is not stifled for a change. :)

    1. Then you will see that Red Bull really does give you wings.

    2. To MichaelV12:
      HEAR! HEAR!

    3. @michaelv12 I am not sure that you’ve really thought through most of your points.

      For example, back when Marussia was still around, Pat Symonds – who was part of their senior management at the time – did a breakdown of the cost of competing in F1 when somebody asked him about the idea of 1 car teams. He pointed out that most of the costs of the team, such as development work or infrastructure costs, remain the same whether you produce one car or two cars, and those costs make up the vast bulk of their costs.

      Reducing from two cars to one car was something he thought was a false economy, since the amount that the teams would save was fairly negligible compared to the fixed costs for operating the team. When factoring in the fact that advertisers find single car teams less attractive due to the lower exposure for their brands and therefore tend to offer worse commercial terms, the overall effect of running one car tended to be fairly revenue neutral, or sometimes even left the team slightly worse off overall.

      It’s why, similarly, the idea of “letting small teams just run a few select races” is not really considered to be a viable option either. In that situation, you’ve still got most of the costs of developing and producing a car which you hope will be somewhat competitive, but now you are trying to make back those costs from a much smaller number of races.

      Again, the relative cost of extending your entry to cover a larger number of races is often offset by benefits such as increased advertising revenue – if you’ve got the resources to be able to “run a few select races”, you’re probably not far off having the resources to then run a full season anyway.

      1. I am more than aware that none of my ideas will ever see the light.

        Some hard truth:
        We will never see the ‘garagistas’ again.
        Nobody will ever be able to get into F1 without being a multi-billion-dollar international corporation first.
        While the “already-billionaires” fly around the world, ordinary Joe Bloggs will own nothing but he will be happy (or else…).

        The main purpose of my post above is simply to put forward some alternative thoughts – while we are still allowed to think at all. The space for free thinkers is getting smaller by the day…

  7. Remove it and you’ll solve the problem

  8. I’ve always been a fan of the idea of making it a separate competition from the main event. F1 Championship and Sprint Championship.

    Also as demonstrated by the debacle at Qatar (19 lap limits on tyres) the countdown to the maximum tyre age could be a fun element. Assuming a sprint race is between 16 and 20 laps, mandate a maximum distance that allows the drivers to, you know, sprint.

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