The F1 Sprint format, which was introduced in 2021, will make its third appearance this season, debuting with the Azerbaijan Grand Prix this weekend.
The new F1 Sprint format for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix
The new Grand Prix format will see the light during the Azerbaijan race, which will be held on the lightning-fast Baku Street Circuit. The system will be based on the current sprint model, but with major adjustments based on input gathered by FOM over the last two years.
To begin, there will be several modifications from last year’s sprint formats: the first free practice session will take place on Friday morning, followed by the race qualifying session in the afternoon. The only difference is that, while last year this qualifying determined the grid for the Saturday race, now it closes the grid for Sunday.
If Friday had changed little, Saturday is the opposite. The morning free practice session is replaced by a shortened qualifying session. It will still be contested in three stints (Q1, Q2, and Q3), but they will be shorter (12 minutes, 10 minutes, and eight minutes, respectively) and will require a different tire type for each (hard, medium, and soft). A 100-kilometer sprint race will take place in the afternoon, with the starting grid chosen the same morning.
As usual, the 305-kilometer race will be held on Sunday. The only change we will see compared to other years is that the sprint race will not determine the starting grid, but rather the qualifying that took place on Friday.
This new arrangement will be seen this year in Austria, Belgium, Qatar, the United States, and Brazil, in addition to the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
The history of the F1 Sprint format
Liberty Media has attempted to strengthen its flagship product after purchasing Formula One at the end of 2016. The Americans have changed everything: from the media side, introducing some very well-received changes, to the technical side, altering the technical regulations of the cars with the FIA to improve the show. The alteration in the Grand Prix weekend format, on the other hand, has not been well accepted.
The first adjustments were implemented in 2020. Taking advantage of the epidemic, they experimented with a shorter format weekend, with all on-track action confined to Saturday and Sunday. There was only one free practice session, qualifying, and the race for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix in Imola. However, they were only tests that did not progress any further.
In the 2021 season, however, the sprint format arrived. Formula 1 used the first version of the format on three occasions, in which there was a free practice session and a qualifying session that did not award the ‘pole’ on Friday; a free practice session on Saturday morning and a 100km race that defined the starting grid and awarded small points to the podium; and finally the Sunday race. A method that was thought confusing and, in the opinion of many, reduced the value of fast single-lap drivers.
Taking these criticisms into account, Liberty Media and the FIA decided to give the format a small facelift. For the statistics, the ‘pole’ was for the fastest on Friday, but the Saturday race still defined the grid for Sunday. Additionally, the Saturday race would award points to the top eight finishers. This system still didn’t convince everyone, but it allowed Kevin Magnussen and Haas to officially score their first pole position in the Brazilian Grand Prix.