F1 sprint races need a reboot: reverse grids or $1m prize could be the spark | Giles Richards
The sprint race format in Formula One has both admirers and critics, making it a controversial topic within the sport. Despite objections, it seems that this format will continue to be used. However, there is comfort in knowing that F1 is open to adjusting the structure in order to improve it.
Introduced in 2020, the sprint was meant to add excitement to race weekends and provide more competitive sessions. However, it has been a topic of debate and with the sixth and final sprint taking place at the Brazilian Grand Prix this weekend, it is once again being closely examined.
The races this season have been lackluster. While there were some exciting moments, such as at Qatar where different tire strategies made for an interesting race, most of the races have been disappointing and uneventful, like at the Circuit of the Americas.
Additionally, the championship was determined during the sprint race in Qatar this year. Despite Max Verstappen’s clear lead, it was a surprisingly uneventful and unimpressive way to secure the title.
Max Verstappen has consistently expressed his disapproval of the format and in Brazil, he once again expressed his disdain in a humorous way. When questioned about his thoughts on the sprint, he responded with heavy sarcasm. “Oh yes, it’s been just wonderful,” he stated. “I can hardly contain my excitement for another sprint. It’s exactly what I’ve been hoping for.”
Other drivers also appreciate the change of pace. Lewis Hamilton, who moved from the last to fifth position in the Brazilian GP sprint in 2021, was fully supportive. “I enjoy having a different format instead of the usual three practice sessions, qualifying, and race,” he stated. “One of my favorite sprint races was when I started from last place, so I support the idea of switching up the order.”
Hamilton suggests using reverse grids, a controversial idea that many are opposed to. However, some, like Sainz from Ferrari and Horner from Red Bull, find it to be an exciting change.
Other ideas, such as implementing reverse grids, will be considered for future sprints. F1 plans to evaluate the current format in the upcoming weeks and discuss all potential options, including keeping the current format, returning to the previous one, and exploring more intriguing ideas that may even win over staunch critics like Verstappen.
One option is to separate the sprint event from the championship, making it a standalone competition. This could be called the “sprint cup” and have its own set of points and cash prize, potentially sponsored by a title sponsor to encourage more intense competition. There have been reports of a potential $1 million prize for this event.
After being removed from the world championship, F1 may contemplate using a reverse grid format, but this idea has received some pushback. Toto Wolff, the team principal of Mercedes, expresses concerns that this change would diminish the value of the championship by prioritizing entertainment over skill. However, if this format were only used outside of the title race and determined by qualifying or championship standings, it could be a thrilling addition to the sport.
At this point, it is clear that F1 is remaining steadfast in their implementation of the concept. Their most recent statistics demonstrate that sprint weekends are generating high levels of interest and participation. Promoters are also pleased with the addition of a more competitive Friday, which appeals to fans who also seem to appreciate the new format.
Despite ongoing issues, teams continue to struggle with the single practice session at the beginning of the weekend. This is due to the fixed setup of cars under parc ferme conditions, leaving them with limited information to make crucial decisions. As evidenced by Mercedes and Hamilton’s experience at the United States GP, this can be costly.
Permitting a secondary practice session to take place after the cars have been set up again before the GP qualifying may solve the issue of the sprint schedule being shifted to Friday, thus reinstating qualifying as the last event before the race on Sunday.
There are numerous options available, but caution is being exercised in Formula 1 to avoid alienating new fans by constantly altering the format. Talks will occur in the coming weeks and will involve the teams, while the schedule for sprints in the upcoming year will be revealed next week.
Despite the outcome, the fact that F1 recognizes the need for discussion about the format is a good sign. This shows that the current leadership, led by chief executive Stefano Domenicali, is open to new ideas and willing to make changes for the betterment of the sport. This is a positive improvement compared to the controlling and oppressive approach of former leader Bernie Ecclestone.