Has Formula One’s qualification process become stale?
Everyone will have their own opinion on that. But it seems that the powers that be within the sport are of the belief that the weekend’s action – and how each driver qualifies for Sunday’s main event – needs a re-think. That is perhaps why the possibility of sprint races, or at least small-scale versions of a traditional Grand Prix, are being considered as a potential new qualification vehicle. The onus would be on entertainment, and it seems once more as if F1 chiefs have decided that welcoming new fans is key as the sport enters a new era with the rule changes due in 2022.
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There is the chance that qualification will now take place as follows: a traditional qualifying session will unfold on the Friday of a race weekend, and performances in that will determine grid positions for the Saturday sprint race. A strong showing in the shorter outing would then be reciprocated by a sport towards the front of the grid for Sunday’s traditional Grand Prix.
There will be critics and supporters of such a radical overhaul. Although most of the ire will surely go towards the proposal that the top eight drivers in the sprint race would pocket as much as half the points available in the standard Grand Prix renewal.
It is believed that the shorter race would take place over around 100km, which would equate to something like 25-30 laps depending on the circuit. That would certainly be a leveller, and it’s possible that we would see different winners quite often in the sprint race. Perhaps, ultimately, that is the goal of F1 chiefs, who realise that the domination of Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes is something of a turn-off for all but the most fervent of supporters of the sport.
Those who follow the idea creation process in Formula One – the good, the bad, and the ugly ideas – will already know that this is not the first time that shorter races have been suggested. Although previous attempts to shake up the sport have largely been vetoed.
Those include the plan to run a ‘reverse grid’ race on the Saturday of a race weekend, which would certainly be an intriguing spectacle. But top teams, including Mercedes, voted against that proposal. However, they are said to be open-minded about the new sprint race idea.
That is surprising, in some ways, as a shorter race would presumably eat into their competitive advantage. For context, Mercedes delivered the fastest lap in just nine of the seventeen races during the 2020 season, and the upshot of that would be far more significant in a test of flat-out speed. The German firm will remain favourites in the outright championship winner F1 betting odds for the foreseeable future until Red Bull and Ferrari close the gap but in a sprint race? It would be interesting to see who asserts their dominance.
Either way, momentum is gathering. The president of the F1, Stefano Domenicali, told a press conference in February that behind-the-scenes explorations of the idea have already taken place, and that it could be tested for real at some point in 2021.
However, the main stumbling block is how a constructor could run the car in two races across the weekend, and what the upshot of damages suffered on a Saturday would be for the main Grand Prix. Would drivers be more conservative in the sprint race, or essentially save themselves and their car for a tilt at the title on a Sunday?
You can’t fault decision-makers for floating these bold new ideas to reinvigorate the sport, but whether sprint races are the silver bullet that Formula One needs remains to be seen.