Red Bull team principal Christian Horner has stressed the need for F1 to find a long-term fix for the sprint format with more changes on the way in 2024.
Having been first introduced in 2021, the sprint format was tweaked for this season with the addition of an extra qualifying session – dubbed the sprint shootout – the most striking change. The result of the sprint no longer sets the grid for Sunday’s main race either, with Saturday’s action detached from the rest of the weekend.
With the sprint still struggling to gain popularity among fans, the F1 Commission announced on Friday in Abu Dhabi that the format will be tweaked further in 2024.
Christian Horner calls for stable F1 sprint format from 2024
Additional reporting by Thomas Maher
The exact nature of the changes is yet to be defined, but they are likely to relate to the scheduling on a sprint weekend as well as relaxing parc ferme rules to allow teams to finetune their cars over a sprint weekend. More adventurous solutions – including reverse grids – could also come under consideration.
Horner is keen for the sprint to be evolved, but believes F1 must settle on a format for the long term after too much change over recent years.
He told media including PlanetF1.com’s Thomas Maher in Abu Dhabi: “I think it’s clear that the sprints need to evolve a bit, in that I can understand the concept and it being action on all three days, which for the promoter and for the fans has an interest.
“But I think the sprints, in some cases, have been slightly underwhelming. There’s no pit-stop, it tends to stay in grid order and it’s a little bit like getting a medal for a long run.
“I think there can be a bit more racing introduced, but then, of course, you’ve got to look at what are the consequences with that: if you were to reverse the grid; if there were points involved, etc.
“So I think it needs a bit more work doing on it within the sporting forum. And then, no doubt, we’ll sit down at the next Commission meeting early in the new year and hopefully finalise a format.”
Asked about the prospect of reverse grids, he said: “This is where you’ve got to do the research.
“I think it’s very important that the next step that we make is one that is fixed for a long period of time. This sprint concept is a new concept that’s been introduced and in some areas it’s very popular, and with some traditionalists it’s very unpopular.
“I think that whatever it evolves to needs to be consistent for a long period of time.
“I think the fan feedback is going to play a crucial role in this in terms of what is it actually that the audience want. Do they actually enjoy the sprint format as it is? Or do they actually want to see a bit more racing if we’re going to do a sprint race?
“And if so, if we’re going to do that, then how do we award the points? How do we incentivise drivers and teams? So there are many topics attached to it. But the most important fundamental thing is: what do the fans want?”
Andrea Stella, the McLaren team boss, echoed Horner’s desire for F1 to avoid making excessive changes.
He said: “I think there are positives to the sprint events. They are confirmed even from the data that F1 circulated.
“We also need to give the time to absorb some different ways of interpreting Formula 1 race weekends and we need to make sure that we don’t change too often, too rapidly, because then we wouldn’t have time to adapt, absorb to a certain way in which we intend a Formula 1 race weekend.
“This is why we think that while improvements have to be made, they should be relatively incremental – have a few more sprint races, and then we can have better data, better information to see in which direction the business of Formula 1 should go.”
On the other hand, Haas team principal Guenther Steiner encouraged F1 to keep trying different solutions.
He said: “I think the sprint weekend is very successful in general for the sport. The viewership is up, people like it but you always try to make it better because it’s not perfect yet.
“As long as we keep on moving along and making things better and trying new things, I think we are on the right track.
“And also not being afraid to make changes, but also not being afraid if the changes don’t work to go back again, or do something, go in another direction.
“I think that is what we’re doing at the moment and I think it’s good for the sport, because the sport is growing massively. The audience is maybe a different one than it was 20 years ago. People want more entertainment, want more action and we need to provide that, to keep on growing as a sport, and growing as a sport is good for all of us.”