Explained: Why Lando Norris, Yuki Tsunoda cannot take part in Sprint Shootout Q3

Henry Valantine
Lando Norris and Yuki Tsunoda. Baku April 2023.

A split-screen of Lando Norris and Yuki Tsunoda in Azerbaijan. April 2023.

Lando Norris and Yuki Tsunoda took a risk with their tyres in qualifying on Friday, and while it looks to have paid dividends for them for the main event on Sunday, it will cost them in Saturday’s inaugural Sprint Shootout.

The McLaren and AlphaTauri drivers both made it through to Q3 and Norris will line up ahead of Tsunoda on the fourth row on Sunday, with their P7 and P8 slots representing an improvement in form for both teams.

This can be attributed in part to an unintended loophole in the rules surrounding tyres on sprint weekends, with the format having been redrawn in time for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

But the wording surrounding mandatory tyre sets having to be used in the Sprint Shootout left room for teams to not have to carry a fresh set of soft tyres forward to Saturday, regardless of their qualifying position on Friday.

The FIA had moved to try and close this loophole, but the teams voted to reject the move before the day’s running began in Azerbaijan.

The relevant rule reads as follows: “In the period SQ3 of the sprint shootout, up to one set of dry-weather tyres may be used, and this must only be a new set of the soft specification.”

Notably, use of the word ‘may’ rather than ‘must’ meant the teams did not have to carry a set of new soft tyres with them to SQ3, or Q3 of the Sprint Shootout, leaving them free to use all their new sets of soft tyres in qualifying on Friday.

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With more points available for the grand prix on Sunday than in the sprint, Norris and Tsunoda opted to use all their new tyres in practice qualifying to try and maximise their grid slot – and they duly did so.

This will give them a better opportunity for more points on Sunday, but as they have no new soft tyres left to use, this means that if they get through to SQ3 on Saturday, they will not be able to exit the pit lane and will be forced to stay in their garages, with new medium tyres being the mandatory compounds for SQ1 and SQ2.

AlphaTauri chief race engineer Jonathan Eddolls explained why Tsunoda used all his new tyres on Friday, saying after the session: “Even though we brought several new aero components, our expected competitiveness based on the last events was that we were not Q3 material.

“As a result, we put a lot of effort into quali preparation in FP1 to give us the best chance for starting as high up as possible on Sunday where more points are available.

“We had to remain quite fluid with the plans for Yuki with the numerous red flags and difficulties getting tyres ready, but the team – with Yuki’s valuable feedback – did a great job to manage the situation and make it to Q3.

“The downside of our FP1 qualifying preparation meant we had no new tyres remaining for Q3, but Yuki set a fantastic lap on the used tyre to finish P8 for the race on Sunday.

“We now switch focus to the shootout tomorrow, which is new for this event, and gives us another chance to show the competitiveness of the car here.”