F1 sprint qualifying needs more spice, but reverse grid is not the answer

Formula 1 has now had its three sprint trials in 2021 and it will be expanded to six events in 2022.

The Sprint was introduced in 2021, in the biggest upheaval of the F1 qualifying format in decades. In three events, qualifying for a sprint race was postponed to Friday, with a one-third mini-race (around 30 minutes) on Saturday establishing the grid for Sunday’s Grand Prix. The idea of ​​a mini race on Saturday to establish the starting grid would be more entertaining for fans than traditional qualifying.

The new format is working. But it could be better.

Formula 1 and its stakeholders are expected to discuss potential adjustments, but these should, for now, be conservative rather than radical. Among the main issues to be resolved are the points distribution for the Sprint (currently 3-2-1) and at which stage pole position is awarded.

Formula 1 cheered on the project and made it clear they are staying. He is financially beneficial, leads to action over the three days of an event, and he is encouraged by the feedback he has received. The social media response suggested otherwise, but Formula 1 bosses are playing it down. All of the race promoters, apparently, want Sprint. This is of course related to the money, which is a critical part of Formula 1, but without taking into account the fact that for now the Sprint should be evaluated only in a sporting context.

Valtteri Bottas won the last Sprint qualifying race of the Formula 1 season on Saturday in Brazil.

Getty Images

Delivering another standing start to a Formula 1 racing weekend is exciting, but after the first lap Sprint was on the whole quite processional. With no championship points on the line below third place, the drivers are unwilling to take any major risks. And when everyone is lined up in order of car performance, with little to no strategic diversion, there is obviously little to no variation.

“I think when you put the cars in the performance order it will end as you expect,” said Fernando Alonso of Alpine.

“You can’t take too many risks because you can be badly affected trying to overtake people,” said Sergio Perez of Red Bull. “It’s not like the actual race; you haven’t won anything but you can lose a lot.

Potential changes have been suggested.

More points for more Sprint spots means those Grand Prix weekends will be much more valuable than non-Sprint race weekends. Formula 1 is already at 23 Grands Prix for 2022, with discussions elsewhere, meaning a potential 25-event schedule is not far off. The six Sprints for 2022 essentially mean 29 “races” next year. The quality versus quantity argument, and the accompanying hype, has been raging for some time, but it is safe to say that the horse has left the stable.

Another suggestion was reverse grid races, partially or totally. Put the slower cars at the front of the Sprint grid to encourage more craziness, more overtaking. These were first launched in 2019 and then again in 2020, but have not received approval from the majority of stakeholders. They have been ruled out for 2022, but Liberty Media motorsport director Ross Brawn remains puzzled by the long-term prospect.

Fortunately, Lewis Hamilton put on an impressive show in the Sprint race in Brazil, after his car was disqualified from qualifying due to a technical problem. From 20th on the Sprint grid, he moved up to fifth place. It was a great demonstration of Hamilton racing, ably aided by the fastest car, a new engine and the DRS. It was definitely entertaining. And that laid the foundation for his eventual victory in the Grind Prix on Sunday.

“[There were] so many overtaking, so much fun, ”said Mattia Binotto, boss of the Ferrari team. “I think we should really think about it [reversed grids] and that’s obviously for the Sprint racing format and after seeing what happened I think it’s not debatable.

But there are issues with the inverted grid concept.

Starting a single fast car in the back means it’s much easier to progress against slower cars. If the whole grid were reversed, the delta to overtake the next car would be much smaller. You would have the fastest trying to pass the second fastest, trying to pass the third fastest and so on.

valtteri bottas sprint
Valtteri Bottas leads the field in the Sprint on Saturday in Brazil.

CARL DE SOUZAGetty Images

The fastest teams bristle at the prospect of being pushed back just for being better. Small teams want to earn their place on merit. There should be no freebies in elite sport.

“Some would think that being in the slower car I would like an inverted grid race,” said George Russell in 2020, when Williams was last. “In fact, it’s the complete opposite. I would be in front like a sitting duck, they would make me look like an idiot.

In 2019, when the idea of ​​the inverted grid was first brought up, Hamilton pointed out that “the people who come up with who don’t really know what they’re talking about”, while Sebastian Vettel described the idea as ” complete bullshit “and” bad approaching. ”

Fans are also widely opposed.

Sometimes fast cars end up in the back by the circumstances. Like last weekend. And that is why it is special. Artificially designing a situation would drain the magic – and become the norm, and then be less exciting. And the drivers themselves don’t want asterisks next to a result. Oh, yeah, they won, but that was only because it was such a silly format.

They want wins, even in a Sprint qualifying race, on merit.

The growth of Formula 1 over the past few years is due to Liberty Media grabbing the handy fruit that was ignored by the previous regime and then cleverly building on it. They have done a great job. But that success came before Sprint.

Has Sprint improved the 2021 Formula 1 season? Well, every race after Sprint has had a controversial Hamilton-Verstappen incident, with two crashes and a very close call. Whether it’s because of Sprint, or just coincidence, is up for debate.

As for the Sprint concept itself, opinion is overall mixed. Sprint was neither a resounding triumph nor a complete failure. It’s somewhere in the middle. However, there hasn’t been a bulb moment yet, and it’s slightly problematic.

The task of Formula 1 is no longer necessarily to find a perfect format. just the one with the fewest flaws.

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