Mercedes reveal ‘double-edged sword’ created by revamped F1 Sprint format

Thomas Maher
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 2024 Chinese Grand Prix.

The Sprint race parc ferme rules allowed Mercedes to make changes to their cars after the Sprint.

Mercedes’ James Allison has revealed how the change of parc ferme regulations for Sprint weekends affected their Chinese GP.

For 2024, the parc ferme regulations for Sprint race weekends has changed, allowing teams to make setup changes to their cars after the conclusion of the Sprint race.

James Allison: Parc ferme rule changes a ‘very welcome adjustment’

In previous years of the Sprint format, the teams had just one hour of practice on Friday before being locked into their setups for the rest of the weekend – including Sprint qualifying, the Sprint race, the Grand Prix qualifying, and the Grand Prix itself.

An error in setup could thus ruin your whole weekend, but the rules have been tweaked this year to allow the teams to enter parc ferme conditions at two different times.

With setups locked in place for the Sprint running, the teams can then make changes ahead of Grand Prix qualifying before being locked in again for that session and the Grand Prix.

It led to the unusual scenario witnessed in China where Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton was a star performer in the Sprint – leading the race early on and finishing a competitive second – only for a setup change to send him spiralling to the back of the grid and an 18th place grid slot before racing to ninth on Sunday.

Mercedes’ technical director James Allison spoke of the parc ferme rule changes in the team’s Chinese Grand Prix debrief, and revealed how it was a welcome change for everyone.

“The Sprint weekends normally fill the engineers with a degree of trepidation because there, in the past, has been just one frantic hour of getting everything ready and then you’ve sealed your fate for the weekend,” he said.

“You just had to watch that play out like clockwork, either good or bad, for the remaining sessions of sprint quali, sprint race, quali, real race.

“This time round, a very welcome adjustment for this year, we have the Sprint race and the main race separated by a period where we can work a bit on the cars. Two periods of parc ferme, so opening it up so we can do some alterations at the end of the Sprint race before the main qualifying and then onto the real race.

“That is great because it gives you a chance to rescue yourself if you’ve made a mistake in the sprint part of the weekend. And so something that we were quite pleased with, quite happy to see go into the regulations.”

But, with Mercedes having made a mistake with their setup direction for the Grand Prix, Allison admitted to how it presented a whole new pitfall – having been running a competitive setup, only to make the mistake of making the wrong changes.

“Unfortunately, it’s also a double-edged sword,” he said.

“So if you use that period wisely, great, you can then be better for the main race, the main event, than you were in the Sprint race.

“But, if you screw up in that second adjustment, then it can actually be worse for you in the main race.

“But I think overall, it’s a great change to the rules, allows more flexibility through the weekend, and something we were looking forward to.”

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James Allison: Hats off to Lewis Hamilton for a well-controlled drive

While Hamilton qualified second for the Sprint, and held onto that second place in the 19-lap race, Allison said it had come as a surprise that the seven-time World Champion was able to secure that position.

“If I’m honest, no, I didn’t expect that we would hang on to P2 because I don’t think the car’s quick enough to merit that at the moment,” he said.

“The rain was a tricky thing for everybody in Sprint Qualifying. I think we’ve got to take our hats off to Lewis for absolutely getting it together in incredibly difficult circumstances in that sprint quali and the cars were going off the track left, right, and centre. And he hit it very cleanly and deserved that place, that P2 on the grid.

“But in the dry conditions of the Sprint race, I felt we were likely to get swallowed up by the two Red Bulls, by others as well, because we do have a pace difference to the leading cars at the moment and there’s no point denying that.

“However, we were, I think, a little bit, you know, things went our way a little bit with the way that Norris fell off the pace, did a poor start, and disappeared backward. And with Fernando then being at the head of the faster cars, they took a while to find their way past him and that bought us some breathing space.

“I don’t want to downplay the achievement because I think it was a very, very well-controlled drive by Lewis who got the absolute max out of the car in that day and it was a welcome tonic for all of us to, first of all, put the car in a decent grid slot and then bring it to the flag in that same position.

“But I think the circumstances of the race helped us a little bit with Fernando acting as that buffer between us and the faster guys.”

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