Formula 1 has always been an evolving sport since its inception in 1950. Back then, car design rules were minimal and could be written on a postcard. Today we have a 52-page FIA tome regulating only F1’s new financial regulations. Still, F1 is in poor health at present, although there is plenty for those running the sport to consider improving.
The F1 calendar is currently under the microscope given the FIA’s commitment to achieving a net zero carbon footprint in less than a decade. This weekend, F1’s governing body revealed it would try to better regionalize racing and reduce planetary crisscrossing with a fleet of jumbo jets and hundreds of tonnes of cargo.
The Sprint format under fire
This weekend’s event in Brazil sees a return to the sprint format, where qualifying takes place on Friday, followed by a one-third distance sprint race on Saturday before the full GP as usual on Sunday. .
Given the poor quality of support racing in Brazil, the sprint weekend format offers the promoter the opportunity to sell tickets to fans for competitive F1 action on each of the 3 days of the weekend.
However, the format is not universally loved in the paddock, with Max Verstappen leading the criticism this weekend from interviews he gave on Thursday.
The sprint was introduced in 2021 and scheduled over 3 weekends during the season. Yet with only 3 points on offer to the winner, with 2nd and 3rd receiving 2 and 1 points respectively, the top drivers had little incentive to risk much in Saturday’s short race, given that the big points were handed out on Sunday.
Format adjustments required
The FIA sought to rectify this for 2022 by awarding 8 points for victory and 7-6-5-4-3-2-1 for minor classifications. However, even that doesn’t seem to have prompted the leading riders to take sprinting seriously.
For 2023, the FIA has planned to double the number of sprint weekends from 3 to 6, but F1 experts believe more needs to be done.
One suggestion is to make sprint events a stand-alone competition where points do not count towards the drivers’ or constructors’ championship. Martin Brundle thinks it won’t change much, “Yeah exactly, if there are only the first points to win.”
“We have to establish what the sprint is for. Is it a springboard for the weekend, is it a standalone event, a championship, or what else?”
F1 upgrade required
Brundle acknowledges that F1 sometimes has to evolve as it has with its multi-year qualifying format.
“These discussions need to take place. I am not against change. I currently think the qualifying format we have now is perfect and we got there because we were ready to make some changes.
“We can refine the sprint.”
As already suggested, there is an important raison d’etre for the sprint which is to help F1 promoters sell tickets for Fridays at events that don’t sell out. Yet there is something about F1 weekends where every day includes competitive on-track action from F1 drivers and cars.
“Personally, I like that it’s a qualifying on Friday, a sprint on Saturday and a grand prix on Sunday on certain events, a different format”, adds Brundle.
A third F1 weekend format
Suggesting that other initiatives could be introduced, Brundle added: “Maybe we can also have a third format throughout the season and keep a classic or traditional one.
“We have to be open-minded, but we can’t keep changing things without structure and establishing what it’s really for.”
The reason for the sprint is indeed established and many drivers this weekend expressed the view that three practice sessions were excessive.
The problem with the Saturday short race is the processional nature of the event where overtaking is limited and only one set of tires is used from start to finish.
More danger could be introduced into the sprint by requiring teams to make a mandatory pit stop as in the full GP and increasing the points awarded to around 50% for the Sunday race.
— Formula 1 (@F1) November 12, 2022