Why sprint races are not required in Formula 1

Date published: February 15 2021 - Finley Crebolder

Monza 2020

Having failed to get support for reverse grids, F1 has turned its attention to sprint races which, while better, are equally unnecessary. 

For the past few years, the sport has at times seemed hellbent on changing up the race weekend format.

Ross Brawn hoped to do so by introducing reverse-grid races in place of qualifying, but his proposal proved unpopular with teams, fans and drivers and was ultimately rejected.

In response, Brawn and co went back to the drawing board and have now returned with the idea of sprint races over 100km that would take place on Saturdays, following a Friday qualifying session, and would determine the grid for the grand prix.

In all fairness, this idea certainly has more merits than the previous one. Rookie drivers get more racing experience, we still get a traditional qualifying session and each day of the race weekend has some real excitement.

That being said, the cons still outweigh the pros…

F1 starting grid

An F1 fan’s heart rarely beats faster than just before the lights go out on Sunday, and it is hard not to think that adding a Saturday race to the schedule would lessen that moment.

With the current format, even after three practice sessions and qualifying, there are still plenty of unknowns heading into Sunday. Which teams will have stronger race pace? How will the tyres hold up? Will there be a lot of overtaking opportunities?

Having another race precede it would provide answers to some of these questions, making things that bit less exciting when the cars line up on the grid for the actual grand prix.

What’s more, with the result of one determining the starting grid for the other, the cars could well already be in the order of how quick they are in races rather than over one lap at the start, making things rather dull.

Having points up for grabs on Saturdays also creates a number of issues. For example, title fights could be decided then, which would make the final day of the race weekend something of an anti-climax, to say the least.

With such a format, dominant forces could end up being even more dominant. Just imagine how far ahead Mercedes would be if there had been two races every weekend in the past two years. It’s not an exaggeration to say they would have wrapped up both titles even earlier than they did.

We also have to consider the impact it would have away from the track.

With seasons getting longer and a cost cap coming into play, teams will already be stretched as it is going forward when it comes to things like spare parts and staff workload. Adding another race to each round will only exacerbate things in this area.

It would increase the chances of a driver damaging his car by crashing out or colliding with a rival, which would, in turn, cost the team money and give their staff more to do. With qualifying being moved a day forward and a race replacing a practice session, preparing the machinery throughout the race weekend would also be more work.

To avoid overloading the teams, either the sport would have to cut back down on the number of race weekends in a season or only have sprint races in a few of them.

All of the above issues could, of course, be addressed to an extent when deciding the specifics of the races, but ultimately, as the old saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

The current race weekend format has been around for a long, long time, and there is a reason for that. It works.

In qualifying, we get to see cars set up to go as fast as they possibly can over one lap being thrashed around by drivers performing at the very limit, and it can be genuinely thrilling. Just watch the video above.

It is made all the more exciting by the fact the stakes are so high. Being even slightly cautious can cause a driver to start far lower down the grid and hurt their chances on race day, forcing them to hold nothing back. There really is no margin for error. That would not be the case if they had a chance to right their wrongs in a sprint race the next day.

Granted, it is not particularly exciting when Mercedes show up to a track leaps and bound ahead of their competition, and things would undoubtedly be more exciting if the grid was more mixed up.

But the way to make that happen is with regulation changes, not gimmicks.

Finley Crebolder

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