Brundle downplays sprint qualy ‘train’ concerns

Date published: July 16 2021 - Michelle Foster

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Martin Brundle has downplayed concerns that the drivers will take it easy in sprint qualifying, adamant they’ll go out to “maximise the opportunity”.

Formula 1 will trial sprint qualifying at this weekend’s British Grand Prix, the first of three tests for the new format.

Instead of Friday’s second practice, the drivers will take part in a qualifying session – same system as what F1 has now – that will determined the grid for a sprint race that will be held on the Saturday afternoon.

The result of that 17-lap race will set out the grid for Sunday’s grand prix. The top three drivers will also be awarded points towards the championship.

But while the likes of Daniel Ricciardo and George Russell are keen to use the new format to their advantage, Lewis Hamilton fears it will be a “train” with very little overtaking.

Brundle disagrees with the Brit.

“I think there is some concern that drivers might just take it easy and take it cautiously, but I think when the lights go out and the adrenaline is pumping they are going to want to try and maximise the opportunity,” he told Sky F1.

“No doubt the engineers will have formed some kind of cunning plan, as they love structured, data-driven solutions. They live by the data and we live by the racing, so I’m hoping the drivers will go like hell.

“Drivers desperately want fourth place on the grid instead of fifth normally so why wouldn’t they want fourth place in the sprint instead of fifth?

“Look how hard they go hunting for that extra one point for the fastest lap in the race. They risk a pit stop to fly around the track on another set of tyres to get one additional point. So the three-two-one points system in the sprint for the top three positions is enough of a juicy incentive without it being a fundamental impact on the championship.

“Obviously, our worst-case scenario would be somebody winning the world championship on a Saturday afternoon, but I don’t see these events being near the end of the season. Personally, I would use it more at places like Paul Ricard where we tend to have reasonably dull races. But then the 2022 cars have been designed to fix that from what we are told.

“I can understand why the top teams are less enthusiastic because it can only be a problem for them if you think about it. If they can do their normal three sessions of testing through practice, go into qualy and start at the front and disappear into the distance, why would they want the jeopardy of another start and the potential of wheel-banging or losing a front wing? They love certainty.

“But I do believe that grid position, the points on offer and just the honour and competitive spirit of everybody will make drivers and teams go for it.”

As for fears that sprint qualifying could be a complete failure, Brundle pointed out that Formula 1’s current system, hailed a success by all, was once a new adventure for the sport.

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“The current knockout qualifying system works extremely well and that’s because somebody has been bold enough to change it before,” he said.

“I remember commentating with Murray Walker on the old 12-lap, one-hour format and sometimes we didn’t see a car for 45 minutes. It would be like the referee blowing the whistle to start England vs Italy and nobody being interested in kicking a ball for the first half. It was just ridiculous.

“Then we had a single lap system where they were all sometimes trying to go slowly to get a better slot in the running order. Drivers also had to carry their race starting fuel, which skewed everything.

“At the start of 2016 we briefly had elimination qualifying but that was a very flawed concept. I think all of us looked at that and took about 20 minutes to work out it was flawed and wasn’t going to work. That was fixing something that wasn’t broken as far as I was concerned because qualifying works in its current format.

“We’ve ended up now with what I think is a really good qualifying system that people seem to increasingly enjoy. So that’ll still set the grid at Silverstone for the sprint and then we’ll have the jeopardy of what follows on Saturday ahead of Sunday’s race.

“Okay, pole position in the record books for this weekend will go to the driver who wins the sprint rather than the fastest in qualifying, but I remember Nick Heidfeld being on pole at the Nurburgring but then pitting much earlier than anyone in the race because he had qualified on lower starting fuel, for example.

“We sometimes saw unusual results in the single-lap systems, or we’ve had people getting lucky with weather in the past, so there has always been something that can mix up the statistics of who’s on pole. So I’m not too worried about that.

“Fundamentally I’m right up for giving this a try. As Ross Brawn has clearly said, if this format just doesn’t work they’ll just switch it off. But it can also be fine-tuned to work if required.”

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