Welcome to a new type of Formula 1 weekend – the sprint qualifying format.
If you’re not familiar with the schedule, now’s your chance to make sure you’ve got the timings right (all timings here are for Sweden).
There’s only one Friday practice session at 3.30pm, and qualifying will take place this evening at 7pm. On Saturday, there’ll be another practice session at 1pm, with the sprint qualifying race taking place at 5.30pm. The British Grand Prix, with a grid set by the result of Saturday’s sprint race, will start at a slightly more normal 4pm on Sunday.
This reshuffle is in the interest of a live trial of a new format F1 is quite excited about – the introduction of a shorter race on Saturdays. Sprint qualifying will last around 30 minutes and take place over 100km. It’s actually around 106km for Silverstone just because of the length of the lap and the way they work out the total number of laps.
The idea behind it is simple. F1 wants to give less die-hard fans an easier way to engage with racing, rather than having to commit to a full grand prix. And it wants to have a showpiece session on every day of the weekend – qualifying on Friday, the sprint race on Saturday, and the grand prix on Sunday.
By doing that, F1 hopes it will attract new fans and give existing ones more competitive sessions to watch, rather than sitting through three hours of practice before getting to the good stuff on Saturday.
It is something that definitely makes sense for promoters and TV rights holders. I imagine it’s been much easier to sell tickets for Friday with meaningful track action to promote, while for broadcasters there should be more eyeballs tuning in for each session. Then there’s the huge novelty value this weekend will have anyway, because it’s the first time we’re seeing this happen.
The key question is whether it will actually result in something worth watching. I like the idea of reducing practice time anyway as I think it’s always better when the teams are less prepared. Having to commit to qualifying set-ups after just an hour of track time is great.
Although I don’t really see the point of the Saturday practice session as by then the cars will be in parc ferme and not much can be changed at all, certainly nothing hugely relevant to the set-up itself. It just seems like something that exists to fill a gap created in the new schedule. At least it will let drivers have a run and see how tyre management will hold up – so it’s a relevant practice for the race itself. But that’s not much fun to watch.
As for the new sprint race…I’ll wait and see. Reserving judgement is important when there’s a live trial like this. We should go in with an open mind. We can still have our hopes and our doubts, of course. That’s only natural.
My concern is that this will just translate into the first stint of the grand prix. The first corner will be exciting, the first laps or two will be good, and then it will just be a bit ‘follow the leader’ to the finish. I fear that drivers will be managing their tyres to avoid needing a pitstop (as they aren’t mandatory in the sprint race) and they will be too wary of having an accident and costing themselves a good grid position for the grand prix.
But maybe Ross Brawn is right. Maybe drivers’ racing instincts will take over and it’ll be a more aggressive affair. Or maybe one driver further back will start taking risks and spark a chain of events because other drivers are forced to react. Maybe the race will be just long enough for the tyres to really start to degrade late on.
We don’t know for sure, which is why it’s worth finding out. I’m in favour of these experiments. I just hope F1 sticks to its word and is willing to admit if it doesn’t work out as well as hoped.
The sprint race isn’t the only F1 innovation this weekend. You may already have seen the images of the 2022 mock-up car that was revealed on Thursday.
There wasn’t anything new about that car. It was just a real-life, full-scale version of something we’ve seen digital renders and windtunnel models of in the past. Oh, and it had a quite mad livery as well. Plus, F1 isn’t a single-make formula. It’s not like IndyCar where every team has the same chassis. So this is just an F1/FIA interpretation of its own rules. Chances are, the real things will look quite different. That has been the word among the teams already – that their cars don’t look like this.
It was just a bit of fun, a bit of drumming up some excitement and attention for a big new rulesets next year. It was harmless, it gave everyone something to talk about, and it means we have a better visual idea of what’s coming.
This was some Liberty Media-era F1 showmanship but F1 knows the new rules for 2022 need to actually work as well. They are determined to ensure that style doesn’t beat substance.
In fact, the same goes for the sprint format. This age of F1 is trying new ways to sell its product to us. If that product’s good, and people enjoy it, I’ve no problem with how they do it.
But they have to be able to admit it’s failed if they have got it wrong.