Jacques Villeneuve exclusive: Blunt verdict issued on polarising F1 Sprint races

Thomas Maher
1997 F1 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve stands with Guns n' Roses frontman Axl Rose.

Jacques Villeneuve believes every successful sport must embrace the show aspect, such as the Sprint format.

1997 F1 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve says he’s all for experimentation with the Sprint format as it evolves into its fourth year.

Introduced in 2021 as an experimental weekend format, the Sprint has taken on a life of its own since as F1 has increased the amount of Grands Prix to use the format to run six of the Sprint races during 2023.

Tinkering with the format has resulted in the Sprint action being confined solely to Saturdays, hosting its own qualifying session before the 30-minute race, but further changes are on the way for 2024 as the F1 Commission has approved the exploration of further tweaks in a bid to improve the format further.

Jacques Villeneuve: It’s good to have change, every sport is a show

On Tuesday, F1 confirmed the six races which will host the Sprint in 2024 – Miami and China will stage their first Sprint races, while Austria, USA, Brazil, and Qatar all return for the 2024 calendar.

Speaking in an exclusive interview with PlanetF1.com, Jacques Villeneuve says he’s fully onboard with the experimentation to improve the spectacle of the Sprint further as it adds extra intrigue throughout a long season.

“It’s great because it gives a better Friday,” Villeneuve told PlanetF1.com, when asked for his thoughts on the direction F1 has taken by introducing the Sprint – a format that has been met with mixed reaction from fans.

With the Sprint format resulting in qualifying for the Grand Prix taking place on Friday, and consigning practice to a solitary one-hour session before parc ferme conditions are imposed, Villeneuve said the intention of the Sprint has been to improve the spectacle of a weekend as a whole.

“It was never meant to give a better Saturday,” he said.

“People complain about Saturday, ‘Oh, it’s not better.’

“Well, no, it’s supposed to give a better Friday. Because Friday can be very dull. At least, you have a result on Friday – something to write about.

“Then the format can be adjusted, whatever, but it’s good. Not every race. As you’ve seen in Moto GP, it’s too much, and it becomes redundant.

“But it’s good to have different weekends also. Because, once you start having 23, 24, 25 races, if there’s the same race weekend every weekend, it just becomes repetitive.

“So it’s good to have changes. It’s a sport, but every sport is a show.”

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Asked whether or not he sees himself as a traditionalist when it comes to the format, Villeneuve said he’s completely open to changes which preserve the integrity of F1 as a sporting challenge.

“I’m a traditionalist in a few things but not that aspect,” he said.

“Because, as long as it remains a sport, then it’s fine. Like, I’m highly against DRS.

“That’s where the traditionalist comes in because that takes away from the actual sport.

“DRS is like giving a sprinter an advantage, or better shoes because he’s a little bit slower.

“So this goes against the purist in me, but anything else… having a sprint or not a sprint – that doesn’t affect the main race, so I’m all for it because sports need a show to exist.

“Every sport that wasn’t a show has died, or nobody really follows.”

Jacques Villeneuve in favour of continuing with tyre blanket ban

In the same F1 Commission announcement that confirmed further tweaks are on the way for the Sprint in 2024, it was also revealed that the mooted tyre blanket ban will not be going ahead any time soon as, instead, Pirelli will focus their development on improving thermal degradation.

The tyre blanket ban was met with plenty of resistance from the drivers and teams as testing was carried out, but Villeneuve believes there’s no reason the ban shouldn’t be going ahead as it would improve the racing spectacle further.

“F1 is the only series left with tyre blankets, or one of the only ones,” he said.

“It would make a big difference. Also, in race strategies, where it would remove that undercut situation. It would force drivers to keep on pushing the tyres.

“You see it in a series like in IndyCar and they managed to make them work. So why can’t F1 manage to make them work? Cold tyres are good for the show.”

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