Drivers highlight the one part of a sprint weekend that is most welcome

Sam Cooper
F1 drivers during the Brazil GP press conference.

Both fans and drivers have mixed feelings over the sprint weekend.

The majority of F1 drivers have highlighted the sprint weekend structure of just one practice and then straight into qualifying as a positive part of the revised format.

Sprints were further modified this year when it was decided they would no longer set the grid for Sunday’s race.

Instead qualifying would be held on the Friday with a separate sprint qualifying on Saturday, giving drivers just one practice session before competitive action gets underway.

Single practice session proving a sprint hit with F1 drivers

While the verdict of the sprint idea in general is somewhat mixed between the drivers, most agreed that the need to be immediately on it made for a more exciting race weekend.

Speaking in the run up to Brazil, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc said exactly that.

“I like the fact of having only one free practice session,” he said. “I don’t think we should have more than six sprint weekends in a year. I think six is good. But to have one free practice and go straight to qualifying is something I enjoy.

“I think the Saturday could be changed and improved but I really like the Friday, to not have three free practice sessions is really long and sometimes it can get a bit boring. We always go through the same programme. So I like the fact of having only one free practice and go straight to the action with qualifying.”

Seven-time World Champion Lewis Hamilton has seen more format changes than most on the current grid and he too enjoyed the one practice session on offer during a sprint weekend.

“Saturday’s not the greatest of days, but I like the single practice session straight into qualifying,” he said. “I think we can learn. I love that we do have a different format, rather than just the same three practice sessions and then the qualifying and the race. But the best sprint race I ever had was when I started last and so I’m in favour of the reverse order, except if we had that then everyone will just try and qualify last!

“But I think it maybe should be a little bit longer the sprint race because it’s something like 19 laps or something.”

Hamilton’s former team-mate Valtteri Bottas was also in agreement, remarking that he never enjoyed the three practice sessions in a usual weekend.

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“I like the sprint always. I’ve never been a big fan of three practice sessions,” the Finn said. “I prefer to have one [practice session] and then straight to action so that’s the nice side of a sprint weekend. Obviously there’s always things that could be changed.

“For example, for us as a team at the moment, unfortunately it is only the top eight that can score in the sprint so most often it’s a bit of a long shot at the moment for us, which is not ideal but of course it’s depends on which car you are. But other than that, I’m more than happy to do a sprint.”

But this would not be F1 if the drivers all agreed. The biggest detractor of sprints has been reigning champion Max Verstappen who, despite winning seven of the 12 sprints to ever take place, has frequently criticised the format and suggested it takes away from Sunday’s race.

Daniel Ricciardo said similar but was more accommodating than his former Red Bull team-mate.

“I liked some of them,” he said. “I think there’s room for a few of them across the calendar. It does change it up a little bit. I still prefer a conventional weekend. If it’s one or the other I’d take the conventional.

“But, look, if we have a season of 23-24 races, if half a dozen of them are sprints, I think it adds a little bit of spice.”

But the single practice session can also pose problems, most notably for rookie such as Logan Sargeant who said it gave him less time to get accustomed to a track.

“For me, it’s not preferred,” the American said. “I think one, as a rookie, it’s nice to have the three practice sessions. But on top of that, I just feel like Saturday is a bit of a standalone day that doesn’t offer a whole lot, as Valtteri said, if you’re not in the top eight. So I prefer a normal weekend.”

Naomi Schiff believes sprint is a positive thing for F1

Sky F1 pundit Naomi Schiff was the one who put the question to the drivers during the press conference and she felt the response from the drivers was, for the majority, positive.

“I would say probably the majority of them were pro the sprint,” she said on the Sky Sports F1 podcast. “I think viewing figures show that the sprint is loved by audiences as well, because at the end of the day, would you rather watch free practice three or sprint shootout or the sprint race?

“I think three practices is a lot and I think this is a way to give both audiences at home and at the track something more interesting to watch.”

Damon Hill, meanwhile, had a radical idea for how both the sprint and grand prix weekend can coexist.

“What you should do is to get the sprint and edit out the middle bit of the grand prix and put the sprint in the middle of the race,” he said, tongue in cheek.

“Of course, it’s a bone of contention now, they’ve talked about potentially changing the format and whether or not some people don’t like it. Red Bull don’t seem to like it, Max doesn’t seem to like it.

“So there’s discussion about it and fans, of course, have got their right to say what they think of it.”

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