George Russell hopes F1 spectacle not ‘diluted’ by new sprint format

Henry Valantine
George Russell in the pit lane. Baku April 2023.

Mercedes driver George Russell looks on in the pit lane. Azerbaijan April 2023.

George Russell has said he enjoys the “exciting” new sprint format in place for this season, but hopes it does not “dilute” fan excitement for the main event on Sundays.

The Azerbaijan Grand Prix is the first test for the new sprint shootout format, agreed by the team in the run-up to the race, which sees sprints take on standalone status on Saturdays – with the shootout setting the grid for the shortened sprint race later that day.

Friday is the new day for qualifying for the main grand prix on sprint weekends instead, with the drivers having set the grid for Sunday’s race two days in advance.

Russell was unable to get out of Q2 on Friday, but placed his Mercedes on the second row of the grid for Saturday’s sprint in the shortened shootout format, which gave him opposing views on how his weekend in Baku has panned out so far.

“Mixed feelings,” Russell said of his shootout performance to F1 TV’s Lawrence Barretto. “Firstly, very happy with the job in qualifying, I think P4 is exceeding our expectations.

“But when I got back into the pit lane I was like ‘bugger, still made that mistake yesterday’, and it showed what was probably possible.

“But you know, you can’t always put in your A-game, and it was so close yesterday, but it’s an interesting one.

“We always seem to get better as qualifying progresses, we always sort of come into our own come Q3 and as the weekend progresses, so there’s something to learn there.

“Anyway, well, the race this afternoon, P4, see what we can do.”

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On the format itself, Russell and the majority of the drivers have spoken positively in general regarding the changes to the sprint format, with the shortened races no longer setting up the grid order for Sunday’s main event.

The number of sprints has also doubled from three to six for 2023, but the Mercedes driver accepts that Formula 1 fans are the ultimate judges on whether or not the format has worked – and hopes the added racing does not “dilute” a race weekend for them.

“Obviously last night I was a bit annoyed with everything, but I think having action every single day is quite exciting,” he explained.

“I hope it doesn’t dilute the excitement for a Sunday for the fans. For us it’s obviously fun because you’re driving flat out more often, but I think we need to listen to what the people at home think. Ultimately, we’re here to put on the show for them.”

Russell’s Mercedes team-mate, Lewis Hamilton will start the sprint from sixth after not picking up a tow from the Red Bull in front of him on track in SQ3.

On the format changes, the seven-time World Champion enjoyed the chance to have another qualifying session, but accepted that only 17 laps of Baku may not be enough to make significant inroads higher up the field.

“That was fun. Qualifying is always fun, so it just felt like another qualifying session,” Hamilton said.

“I mean, it’s only 17 laps, so not a massive amount that you can do I would assume in that time, but I hope that we get some sort of race.”