F1 sprint race verdict: more show, less meaning

Published: 17 July 2021

► The new sprint format needs work
► But it’s positive on the whole
► What do you think? 

The new F1 sprint format is here, and on the whole it’s not too bad. Get past the rather mediocre race and moving qualifying to Friday has injected more energy into the weekend – and rightly solidified F1 as a three-day event. But after an explosive qualifying on Friday, there was a feeling of hollowness among the crowd and the drivers; while the new sprint format gives, it also takes away.  

Qualifying

Ross Brawn, the main supporter of the sprint format, cites a need to inject excitement into Friday – and I completely agree. Formula One has always been and must remain a three-day cascade of nail-biting moments, and Friday qualifying moves toward that.

Unless you’re a keen fan or you’ve taken advantage of a three-day ticket, you won’t usually be watching on Friday. And if you are tuning in, you’ll see teams essentially doing homework for a few hours. Worse still, you have to rely on AWS for context, or wait a few hours for the F1 website itself to crunch the numbers. Now that’s all replaced with clear and engaging action, and that’s a good thing.

But the jeopardy and meaning of qualifying has gone. While having the fastest lap is still a feat, it no longer sets you up for the best chance to get 25 points – and it can also be undone in an instant, as Lewis found today. Next to him, Max had the opposite issue; after a titanic battle on Friday, he realized he needn’t be too bothered after all. 

And just like that qualifying is now another session. An exciting one, but still just another session. 

The race 

After some vintage from Alonso and a few racy laps from Hamilton, the sprint race settled into F1 at its mid-2000s worst. Dirty air and less variables such as pit stops meant the race was neutralized in just a few minutes. And with just three points for a win on offer, it was also hard to know how hard drivers were pushing in the first place. 

Over half an hour, all those great performances we saw on Friday were eroded, and the usual pecking order began to form. Alonso and Perez were exceptions, but on the whole, Sunday’s grid order looks less random than Friday’s. And worse still, we have a good idea of who will win. 

What happens now? 

While it was great to see on track battles on Friday and Saturday, it was all literally a bit pointless. There’s more show, but less meaning, so the first trial of three gets a hesitant thumbs up rather than an enthusiastic one. F1’s desire to experiement should be praised, but now it’s time to fine tune. 

The three-day session can work, but first qualifying’s importance will need to be restored. It can happen in two ways: points for qualifying and more points for sprint race victory. Either one will give Friday’s events real gravitas; drivers will have either clawed back valuable points, or they’ll have set themselves up for a race that actually matters. A bit like qualifying on Saturday then… 

Let us know what you think of the new sprint format in the comments, and how you’d fix it. 

By Curtis Moldrich

CAR's Digital Editor, F1 and sim-racing enthusiast. Partial to clever tech and sports bikes.

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