Toto Wolff is in favour of going big on any potential Sprint format changes, believing F1 should embrace ‘WWE’-style racing on Saturdays.
Formula 1 has confirmed six Sprint races in 2024, with China and Miami replacing this year’s Belgian and Azerbaijan races to become first-time hosts of a Sprint alongside the returning Austria, USA, Brazil, and Qatar events.
But, with the Sprint format entering its fourth year, further tweaks are set to be made for 2024 as the F1 Commission recently approved the Sporting Advisory Committee’s analysis into just how best to go about doing that.
Toto Wolff would prefer a normal Grand Prix to a Sprint
Ever since the introduction of the Sprint format at three races in 2021, it has divided opinion as fans, drivers and team bosses have all had preferences as to whether the traditional format is more ‘true to F1’ than the experiments to introduce a Sprint Qualifying and the 30-minute race.
One of the main criticisms of the Sprint format is that, while the action is separated out onto its own day on Saturday, the imposition of parc ferme conditions after a single practice session dulls the effect of the remainder of the weekend as teams can end up trapped with a sub-optimal setup.
Added to that is the fact the Sprint, running the same – albeit condensed – qualifying system, simply becomes a microcosm of what to expect in the Grand Prix itself. Essentially, a spoiler ahead of the main race with the drivers unwilling to go too crazy for fear of damage before the much more important Grand Prix.
With the F1 Commission set to sign off on changes to the format once agreement has been reached about what direction to take, Toto Wolff believes it’s a net positive that tweaks are being made, even if he’d still prefer to run with a normal GP weekend.
Speaking to select media, including PlanetF1.com, over the Abu Dhabi GP weekend, Wolff spoke about the possibility of running a new sprint qualifying format using specific tyre compounds in each section of the session.
“We discussed it. I think it’s an interesting format. We like it. But we have too many variables at the moment,” he said.
“Sprint weekends in general, I’m not the biggest fan because I think it dilutes the value of the Grand Prix.
“But I can understand the service, that people like it – there’s more people like it than don’t. Maybe I’m too purist. Maybe I’m too old school.
“But I’d rather have a Grand Prix than a Sprint race weekend. We need to know that a Grand Prix is at two or three o’clock in the afternoon, and that’s it.
“We’ve done those Sprint race weekends, and we are tweaking the format, which I think is positive.
“I think, to a degree, you do a Sprint qualifying, you do a Sprint race, you do Grand Prix qualifying, and you do a Grand Prix. That works much better.”
But Wolff believes that, rather than simple tweaks to the sensible and serious format currently used, F1 should lean into the desire for entertainment and suggested that, for the purpose of the Sprint races, the sport could embrace going full ‘WWE’ to completely differentiate itself from the proper Grand Prix.
“We talked about reverse grid races,” he said.
“I can get my head around a reverse grid Sprint race because at least we are really declaring ‘that’s the stupid race’.
“Six times a year, we’re doing something that is really stupid, and everybody knows to differentiate that.
“There will be other winners and different podiums, that’s refreshing. We do WWE on Saturday six times, and then we play Formula 1 24 times on Sunday.”
Put to him by PlanetF1.com that his suggestion would tie in with the mooted idea for a standalone Sprint Championship that has no impact on the proper championship, Wolff didn’t discount the idea.
“Stefano [Domenicali, F1 CEO] knows what he’s doing because he has all the data in the background,” Wolff said.
“I’m questioning myself – too purist, too old school, too stubborn? Maybe.
“So the data shows that there is an interest for the Sprint race weekend. So, for me to kind of get my head around, make it really stupid, without distorting the main championship.
“What are we doing with points? That’s a different question.
“The different qualifying format with the tyres, there’s another variable. I’m not sure. Maybe we do it everywhere. I don’t know.
“But there are a few question marks. We have a few unknowns we have to sort out. Maybe not all at once.”