Mercedes identify opportunities and pitfalls of F1’s new sprint format

Thomas Maher
Lewis Hamilton driving during the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Baku, June 2022.

Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton approaches a corner during the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Baku, June 2022.

Mercedes believe the tweaked Sprint Qualifying format used for the first time this weekend will lead to some new scenarios on track.

Formula 1 rolls out a tweaked version of the Sprint Qualifying format for this weekend’s race in Azerbaijan, which will include a ‘Sprint Shootout’ on Saturday.

The differences being made to the format are an attempt to isolate the Sprint race entirely from the rest of the Grand Prix weekend, with Friday holding practice and qualifying for Sunday’s race, with Saturday essentially becoming a standalone day with a shortened qualifying session before the Sprint.

While the qualifying session for the Sprint will be split into three parts, the same as normal qualifying, the three sections will be 12 minutes, 10 minutes, and eight minutes, respectively.

With this new dynamic to look forward to on the streets of Baku, Mercedes have offered some insight into the different mentality teams will have to bring with them for Saturday’s action.

“The drivers will go straight into a qualifying session on Saturday, which is very unusual,” Andrew Shovlin, Mercedes’ head of trackside engineering, explained.

“It’s a tall order to expect the drivers to deliver a single-lap performance immediately so I suspect everyone will go for multi-lap runs. The medium tyre can handle multiple laps but without having several sets available, there’s a higher chance of getting unlucky with a red flag for example. I think everyone will get out on track and get busy trying to put laps in.”

Sporting director Ron Meadows said the format won’t cause ‘massive change’ in terms of how the garage personnel operates: “However, when you add sessions that require 100 percent attack from the drivers and every lap matters to advance through to the next stage, you always run the risk of a crash”. recommends

Toto Wolff delivers a word of warning ahead of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix

Christian Horner’s devious dig over ‘Mercedes replica’ FIA trophy

Just one practice session to prepare for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix

With Saturday becoming its own standalone day, with the result of the Sprint no longer relevant for determining the start order for the Grand Prix, it means that the teams must do all their preparation for Sunday’s race during the sole practice session on Friday – every other session now having the competitive element.

As a result, Mercedes have identified a big hurdle that every single team will have to keep in mind in order to ensure the best preparation possible.

“When you’ve only got FP1, it’s practically impossible to condense all the usual learnings across Friday and Saturday into one session,” Shovlin said.

“You lose the opportunity to focus on the long run and you’ve got to think about what the real priorities are.”

Meadows agreed with his colleague, saying the changes will likely mean a very busy track for the entirety of FP1.

“It will be very tricky for the engineers and drivers to find the optimum set-up for both qualifying and heavy race fuel trim,” he said.

“We will need to maximise the number of laps in FP1, so we likely won’t be planning on making set-up changes that sap running time for the drivers. It’s a new way of working for all the teams and provides a fair amount of opportunity to excel.”