Pundit ponders ‘what is the point of today’ after F1’s inaugural sprint shootout

Michelle Foster
Valtteri Bottas lapping Baku. Azerbaijan F1 April 2023

Alfa Romeo driver Valtteri Bottas lapping Baku.

Following F1’s inaugural sprint shootout, Sky Sports pundit Naomi Schiff has called for changes to allow teams to work on their cars after Friday’s qualifying.

Because, she says, for any team not performing as they’d hoped, it then raises the question what’s the point of running on Saturday when the risks far outweigh the rewards.

This weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix saw the introduction of a new format for Formula 1’s sprint weekends, one in which Saturday is a standalone event.

Instead of Friday’s qualifying deciding the grid order for the sprint race it now determines the grid for the grand prix on the Sunday while the sprint race has its own qualifying, billed sprint shootout, in place of what used to a practice session on the Saturday.

The sports’ powers-that-think are hoping that with Saturday’s action having no impact on Sunday’s starting order, the drives will be more inclined to go for it in the sprint race.

But according to Schiff the risks for those who most likely won’t score one of the eight points available in the shortened 17-race far outweighs the rewards.

And given the teams cannot even work on their cars on Friday, the cars deemed to be under parc ferme conditions after Friday’s qualifying, there is nothing to be gained but a potential repair bill.

As such she asks why would they even bother running on a Saturday.

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“I guess it’s quite frustrating for the engineers because you’ve only got that one session to do it and then, once you’ve established an issue in the car after that, you can’t really fix it. It is one to think about,” GPFans quotes her as having told Sky Sports.

“And also, for the teams that are not performing that well – let’s say, below the top 10 – for them, the question is what is the point of today?

“If there are no points on the cards for them then everything out there, especially on a track like this, is just a risk.

“If there was an opportunity for them in that moment to improve their cars or have the potential to still gain, then it could make it more interesting for the whole field.

“I think it would be important to give the rest of them a reason to show up today, a reason to give their best effort.

“We saw a couple of teams saving their soft tyres because they knew their cars wouldn’t make it into SQ3 and that’s just not fun for them.

“Why turn up? Why go out in that session?

“There are a lot of things that still can be tweaked around this format. Shall we have the grand prix qualifying on the Friday or the Saturday?

“There’s a lot to learn from this weekend to see where it does and it doesn’t fit.

“But on a track like this, for the cost cap reasons, it’s probably not a great place to have the sprint format.

“On the other hand, because so much does go wrong, then maybe there is a chance for those not in the top eight to be in the top eight.”