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“Not the smartest thing to do”: Why are drivers concerned about the upcoming sprint race in China?

Written by Jiya Mahapatra, Edited by Meghana Sree


Formula 1 is returning to China, which means that the drivers will be taking on the Shanghai International Circuit for the first time in five years. 


Despite being a source of excitement for fans around the world and especially in Asia, the addition of a Sprint weekend to the Chinese Grand Prix weekend has been a cause for debate, with a number of the drivers feeling as though it’s unwise to have a Sprint race on a track that they haven’t visited in years.


Sprint races were first introduced to F1 back in 2021 as a way to make some races more action-packed across all three days of the weekend.


The Sprint format means that rather than having the typical three practice sessions, drivers only get one, with the remaining time being taken up for a Sprint qualifying and then Sprint race itself. 


The Sprint races are meant to be riveting as they’re much shorter, which means that drivers can push all out and dash to the finish line without having to worry as much about conserving their energy or managing tyre degradation.


However, some drivers have expressed their concerns for hosting a Sprint race at a track which a number of them are unfamiliar with.  


When speaking in the post-race press conference following the Japanese Grand Prix, Scuderia Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz spoke about how the lack of preparation may cause problems over the race weekend.


He said: “We said to the FIA and to Formula 1, with these kinds of cars to go to a track with one hour of practice and straight into qualifying, with the plank wear and things like this, I think it’s not a good choice to choose to Sprint after four or five years absence.”


Sainz’s concern for plank wear in the cars is valid — after all, his own teammate Charles Leclerc was disqualified last year at the race in Austin for excessive plank wear.


Each weekend, teams can choose their rear ride height, but if they are too low to the ground, the wooden plank underneath the car starts to wear. As per FIA regulations, the plank cannot wear more than 1mm, and if this is the case, the driver gets disqualified from the race. 


By hosting a Sprint race and missing out on extra practice sessions, drivers and teams won’t have as much time on the track to assess how low their car can be, which could cause too much plank wear. 


Sainz’s general view was that having a Sprint race in China isn’t inherently a bad idea, but that it would be more favourable in a few years’ time when drivers and teams have more recent experience with the track. He relayed this by saying: “I think Shanghai as a race circuit is a great one.


I think it’s one of our favourite ones for everyone, it’s just a great racing track and a track that offers a good possibility to overtake, so it makes sense to have a Sprint there.


It just shows the uncertainty. Maybe for you guys at home it’s exciting, but for engineers and drivers, it’s something that in my opinion, we shouldn’t take the risk and have a normal weekend [instead].”


Sergio Perez, Max Verstappen, and Carlos Sainz shared their thoughts on the upcoming Chinese Grand Prix at the post-race press conference in Japan; Credits: FIA

​​Both the Red Bull Racing drivers seem to hold the same view, with Sergio Perez stating: “For the show, probably it’s a good thing. But I think from the preparation side, it’s going to be really hard.” Perez added: “I’ve never raced here with Red Bull, so it’s going to be quite a lot to do in a single practice.” 


Perez’s teammate and three-time World Champion Max Verstappen continued the conversation by saying that it’s “not great” to be hosting a Sprint race in China in its return after years of not racing at the track.


Verstappen has infamously never been fond of the format of the Sprint weekends, and that view is definitely the case for the race in Shanghai. He explained: “When you have been away from a track for quite a while, I think you never know what you’re going to experience, right? So, it would have been better to have a normal race weekend here.” 


Verstappen has always been candid about his opinions on the addition of Sprint races to F1; Credits: The Sun)

The Dutchman compounded this by saying: “Purely from a driving perspective, the performance perspective of the sport, I think it’s not the smartest thing to do.” 


However, all three drivers agreed that the Sprint in Shanghai will spice the weekend up for fans. Verstappen capped off the discussion by saying that “On the other hand, it probably spices things up a bit more, and that’s maybe what they would like to see.” 


The Sprint race is certainly an interesting addition to the upcoming Chinese Grand Prix. While it will be exciting to watch for racing enthusiasts around the world, it will also be intriguing to see how it affects the cars and drivers over the course of the whole race weekend. 


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