Sprints an improvement on practice, but still yet to be fully embraced

Henry Valantine
The drivers go to the first corner. Monza September 2022.

Charles Leclerc leads the field down to the first chicane at the start of the race. Monza September 2022.

The FIA confirmed the number of sprint qualifying sessions will double from three to six in 2023, but the jury still seems to be out on how successful they have been so far.

The format was trialled at three events last year and the same will be the case in 2022, with the FIA and Formula 1 on a mission to introduce three days of ‘meaningful’ action across a full race weekend: Qualifying on Friday, sprint on Saturday, race on Sunday.

Sounds simple enough, and one thing that cannot be denied is that the altered weekend structure offers up more entertainment than a standard free practice session, given that World Championship points are on the line in a quickfire race, which forms the grid for the main event on Sunday.

However, this additional action over a one-third race distance will effectively push the race count for 2023 up to 30, with two added race weekends coming on the main calendar – though sprint locations are yet to be revealed at time of writing.

FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem said that “sprint sessions provide an exciting dynamic to the race weekend format and have proven to be popular over the past two seasons” and Formula 1 CEO Stefano Domenicali claimed that “the feedback from the fans, teams, promoters, and partners has been very positive” – but this does not seem to paint the full picture on the opinions surrounding sprints.

Max Verstappen voiced his opposition to sprint qualifying earlier in the year, saying: “The emotions on a Sunday should be special. That’s the only day you should race. That’s how I grew up.

“The sprints we’ve done so far haven’t really changed anything in the results. Everyone starts on the same tyre and finishes the sprint in the same position from which they started.”

George Russell also dubbed the sprint at Imola as being “processional”, arguing it was not long enough for tyres to degrade and allow a strategy to play out.

Carlos Sainz, however, believes a way should be found to “spice up” the sprint format, but there is potential for it to work well in Formula 1 if done correctly.

But the sprint qualifying debate also brings up the question which has become increasingly prevalent in recent years: How much is too much Formula 1?

Domenicali has made it clear he hopes to expand the sport as far as he can within the constraints of the current Concorde Agreement with the teams, with the teams and the World Motor Sport Council also having approved the rise in sprint events for next year and beyond.

With the teams already seemingly at their limit with workload, two extra weekends and three extra sprints next year will see staff members pushed even further in putting on the Formula 1 spectacle around the world.

The full effect on those in the sport cannot be properly evaluated until the calendar plays out next season, and their physical and mental welfare should absolutely be at the forefront of Formula 1’s considerations.

But the behind-the-scenes graft is still secondary compared to the opinions that ultimately matter most – from the fans.

From the reaction on PlanetF1.com and our social media channels, the consensus on the issue is that there is no real consensus. The prevailing view is either vehemently against sprints being on the schedule for a variety of reasons, to those who feel they add more to a race weekend – without much apathy in between.

From a pro-sprint perspective, one fan wrote to PlanetF1 on Twitter saying: “Promoters will love it as it means more sales (food, water, transport etc), teams will love it as more money, FIA & Liberty [Media] loves it as they can now charge more to those 6 circuits who want SPRINT weekend, fans who will visit the race will love it as it means 3 days of action.”

But on the other side of the coin, there are concerns that the sport is financially motivated in this decision instead of on sporting terms, as well as possibly diluting the spectacle of a race weekend by having racing on top of racing.

“Sprint races should never have been introduced to F1 in the first place, they’re gimmicky overall,” and “I think F1 should drop the sprints.. I don’t see the point of it, because many drivers won’t take the risks like on a race, and it’s devaluing the race on the next day itself,” were examples of dissenting views from PlanetF1 readers.

But as with any new introduction in Formula 1 that was met with resistance, be it DRS creating ‘artificial’ racing or the turbo hybrid engines not sounding good enough, these were both examples of issues that eventually became part of the sport, and fans became used to it.

Like it or not, it appears sprints are here to stay – and while it will take some time for them to bed in, perhaps having more of them will see their meaning be embraced further instead of being sparsely placed randomly in the calendar. Time will tell.

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