Written by James Harding, Edited by William Stephens
History of sprint qualifying
Last year, Formula 1 announced a new format for Saturday’s qualifying, spanning three of the 22 race weekends across the season. It saw drivers compete in a 100 kilometre (one third of a race distance) ‘sprint’. The driver who finished first in the Sprint gained three championship points, second received two points, and third place attained one point. Sunday’s grid positions are decided by the results of the Sprint.
The British Grand Prix weekend made history for being the first track to host sprint qualifying. It saw home favourite Lewis Hamilton start on pole for the sprint, but Dutchman Max Verstappen was victorious after the 17 laps. Alpine’s Fernando Alonso’s drive from eleventh to seventh was the only notable highlight from the session. The sprint was underwhelming at best, particularly as F1 bought in the format to provide more racing action.
The second sprint qualifying was held on the Italian Grand Prix weekend. Valtteri Bottas retained first place for 18 laps, granting him his second pole position of the season. The sprint was as mediocre as Silverstone, surely making Formula 1 rethink their decision for the sprint to continue.
The final sprint qualifying of the 2021 season took place in São Paulo, Brazil. Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton was disqualified from Friday’s Qualifying session, which resulted in him starting from the back of the grid for the Sprint. In a mere 24 laps, Hamilton gained 15 positions. The miraculous fight back from Hamilton was the only engaging part of the 100 kilometre dash.
F1’s Managing Director, Ross Brawn, was “considering [sprint qualifying] weekends being grand slam events”. And despite the mediocre performance of 2021, F1 decided to continue with sprint qualifying for three races over the 2022 season.
However, a number of adjustments were introduced for 2022, following feedback from teams and fans. Firstly, the tracks being used have changed, seeing Imola and Austria host proceedings; Brazil keeps its place as the final sprint of the year. Secondly, the points on offer increased, with first place receiving eight championship points, second receiving seven points, and so on until eighth place receives one point.
2022's first sprint
Imola played host to the first sprint of the season, and it failed to disappoint. Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc sent the tifosi into ecstasy when he overtook Max Verstappen off the line. However, Verstappen managed to chip away at Leclerc’s 1.6 second lead. With the Dutchman approaching in the Monegasque’s mirrors, DRS aided him in making the move into Tamburello. Subsequently, Verstappen took the chequered flag, and the pole for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix. The sprint was exhilarating, culminating in the exciting last few laps that saw Verstappen’s late move on Leclerc.
Despite the impact and reception of the sprint qualifying format varying, it appears that Formula 1 will retain sprint races in the future. It seems clear that this is a sensible concept, given that the new 2022 cars have made following less difficult, meaning the races, particularly Imola’s sprint, have been more compelling to watch. On the other hand, the sprint will simply not work on tracks where it is harder to overtake, like Monaco or Spain. But with only a few championship points on offer, it could grant drivers less willingness to overtake, consequently making more unsatisfactory viewing.
Overall, after seeing the success of Imola’s sprint race, I believe that F1 sprints should remain on a small handful of races across the calendar, and only on the circuits where overtaking is easier. The current qualifying format rarely disappoints, and in some cases doesn’t need to be changed. But, with the new car regulations, sprint races seem to provide more racing action.
What do you think about the future of F1 Sprint Races? Let us know in the comment section below.