In Formula 1, Formula1

Starting with the Baku Grand Prix in Azerbaijan 2023 (Baku Circuit, April 28-30, 2023), the Saturday of the
Formula 1
changes face again, making way for a standalone day in which the Sprint Shootout and Sprint Race find their place. The top motorsport series, for the six “sprint” events scheduled throughout the season, thus arrives with a revolutionary format that is already causing discussion and dividing the public and fans.

Max Verstappen

Formula 1 Sprint Shootout Qualifying: the sprint race qualifying

The big innovation introduced by the Circus lies precisely in the Sprint Shootout Qualifying, a mini-qualifying session dedicated to deciding the starting grid for the sprint race. Sprint Shootout qualifying will take place on Saturday morning, following the tripartite logic of traditional qualifying, albeit with shorter times: SQ1 will last 12 minutes, SQ2 will last 10 minutes instead, and SQ3 (the last stage) will last 8 minutes. In terms of tires, all teams will have to use three sets of new tires for the three phases, medium compound for SQ1 and SQ2 and soft compound for SQ3.

The Sprint Shootout will only serve to determine the starting grid for the 100-kilometer race to be held on Saturday afternoon itself. The – obvious – intention of the organizers is to thus make Saturday “sprint” a day in itself, usable independently of the rest of the weekend.

In this regard, there was no shortage of discussion about penalties-both those to be served and those that may have accumulated during Sprint Race and Sprint Shootout. At present, the main provisions are as follows:

  • Infractions committed during Friday’s Qualifying or Free Practice will be served during Sunday’s Race, and not during the Sprint race
  • Infractions committed during the Sprint Qualifying Shootout will be served during the Sprint Race
  • Non-compliance with the Parc Ferme rules will force a start from the pit lane during both the Race and the Sprint Race
  • Power Unit penalties will only be served during the Sunday race (unless they are part of Parc Ferme infractions)

Formula 1 Sprint Race: scoring, schedule and management after the Sprint Shootout

Sprint Race scoring does not change with the introduction of the Sprint Shootout. Points are awarded for the top 8 qualifiers and are equivalent to placement: 8 points to first place, 7 to second place, 6 to third place, and so on.

Confirmed at the moment, along with the Baku weekend, the other “sprint” dates of the 2023 Formula 1 season:

April 29 Azerbaijan GP
July 1 Austrian GP
July 29 Belgian GP
October 7 Qatar GP
October 21 US GP
November 4 Sao Paulo GP

An official statement issued on April 25 by the combined FIA / Formula 1 states that “Following the discussion held at the F1 Commission in February, the FIA, Formula 1 and all teams set themselves the goal of studying how to improve the Sprint format to increase the level of intensity on the track during the weekend, ensuring that as many sessions as possible would result in a competitive sporting outcome. As a result of this mandate, the sport’s advisory committees and key Formula One stakeholders presented a set of recommendations that aim for a Sprint format that exists separately within a Grand Prix weekend and does not cause Sprint to determine the grid for Sunday’s main event, offering more “risk” through reduced practice times and providing a greater incentive for drivers to race hard on Saturday. All parties involved are convinced that this will enhance the spectacle of Sprint weekends and improve the on-track action for fans around the world.”

Sprint Race and Sprint Shootout: how Formula 1 is changing

As expected, the introduction of the Sprint Shootout and this gradual distancing of Saturday’s “Sprint” from the rest of the “traditional” race weekend have raised more than one eyebrow. While it is certain that the spectacle is increasing-two qualifying sessions and two races are an appetizing menu for an enthusiast’s three days at the track-some important issues deserve further study.

The first is the role of free practice, a very important tool for drivers and teams. Free practice is a crucial time of growth especially for those who need to make up lost ground or who are further behind in development and preparation. In that sense, the reduction in noncompetitive track time-especially since private and independent track tests are banned-is a blow to the midfield and younger drivers, who increasingly have to rely on simulators and wind tunnels, hoping that they will suffice.

Likewise, there is thought to be given to the well-being and fitness of squares and riders, who are now forced to put in extra effort both physically and emotionally. In fact, the energies required to cope with races and qualifying, though shorter, are not comparable to that of free practice. A similar debate has been opened -with the same perplexities- in
MotoGP
, where organizer Dorna has placed a Sprint Race alongside each Grand Prix, effectively doubling the number of starts (and some would say also the risk attached to them) for each weekend.

Now, it would be difficult and even wrong to make judgments before the Azerbaijan race begins. Formula 1 is changing, and on several occasions the positive sides of the coin have been seen: a younger and larger audience, new markets won, and a new golden age for the top open-wheel series. Clearly, it is impossible to change by staying the same, and it should come as no surprise that Domenicali and Circus management are willing to be radical even on the sport’s most radical issues.

Where is the boundary that still separates the motorsports elite from a media super product in which the sporting element is no longer central is the real issue at hand. On the rest, as it should be, the track will speak, although there are already those who swear that the first ones to the checkered flag will always be the same, sprint or not.

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Emanuele Venturoli
Emanuele Venturoli
A graduate in Public, Social and Political Communication from the University of Bologna, he has always been passionate about marketing, design and sport. Even before finishing his studies, he started working in sports marketing and discovered the importance of everything outside the playing field. Since 2012 he has been with RTR Sports, where he is now Head of Communication and Marketing Officer for projects related to Formula 1, MotoGP and the best of other two- and four-wheel motor sports.
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