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F1 | Did the Sprint Qualifying do anything to improve the show?

F1 | Did the Sprint Qualifying do anything to improve the show?

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Rules changes and new ideas have always been treated with scepticism by Formula 1 and its fans.

Some ideas such as DRS and splitting qualifying from an hour session into three mini elimination sessions have stood the test of time, whilst ideas such as double points in the final race and drivers being given a time limit before being eliminated from qualifying went down like lead balloons after they failed miserably to spice up the action.

Liberty Media and its managing director Ross Brawn have never been shy of trying new things since taking charge of the sport in 2017. Brawn’s latest brainchild of a 100km Sprint Qualifying to decide the starting grid for the British, Italian and Brazilian Grand Prix was set to be its most controversial yet when it was announced before the Portuguese Grand Prix weekend.

Although the idea has worked in Formula 2 with its two Sprint Races providing a chance for all teams and drivers to score points, only the top three would get points from the Sprint Qualifying, with the other 17 drivers getting nothing.

The idea also had another problem; the race had the potential to be possession due to the current generation of Formula 1 cars being notoriously problematic to follow in dirty air and being hard to overtake with on circuits that aren’t power orientated. 

The most significant change to the weekend’s format would be that qualifying would be moved to a Friday, instead of the traditional Saturday, for the first time since 1995 when Formula 1 had two qualifying sessions to determine the grid to accommodate the new idea.

The event itself was a tale of two very different races, with the first eight laps being a feast of wheel to wheel combat as drivers such as Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen charged through the order with the Spaniard up to 11th to 5th by the end of the opening lap as the two time World Champion made full usage of the softer tyres to charge through the pack.

But the remaining nine laps were a dull affair as the order at the front failed to change, with Max Verstappen romping home to make history as the first winner of the Sprint Qualifying race.

Reaction to the race was mixed; some who liked the idea claimed that it had been a roaring success and that people who had scoffed at the idea had egg on their face, whilst others said the race had added nothing to the spectacle and had rather fixed a problem that had never actually existed. 

There were some positives to take from the Sprint Qualifying, the closer racing at the start of the race, which saw Alonso and Raikkonen charge through the pack, was exciting to watch, and it was refreshing to see the teams and drivers being given free tyre choice rather than having to start on tyres they used in qualifying and having to save them until their first scheduled pitstop.

Sprint Qualifying saw a welcome return of the winner’s wreaths, which had previously been consigned to the annals of history and maybe soon, Formula 1 could bring back this relic of the past permanently for 2022.

But the most significant negative of Sprint Qualifying was that spectators and viewers alike were left knowing that the exhilarating Qualifying battle between Verstappen and Hamilton, which went down to the wire, had counted for next to nothing.

In comparing the two sessions, Qualifying was far more exciting to watch, with Q1-Q3 full of nail-biting drama, whilst the Sprint Qualifying was plagued by cars struggling to follow each other in the dirty air for over half of the race as the field mostly stayed as it was till the checkered flag.

Furthermore, the FP2 session before Sprint Qualifying saw a limited amount of running and achieved very little for the teams apart from checking that all systems were working before Sprint Qualifying commenced. It was also a bad mistake to have Qualifying moved to a Friday, as this caused people at work to miss one of the highlights of the weekend.

In this writer’s frank opinion the Sprint Qualifying has failed to solve Formula 1’s issue of its at times rather dull on-track product, whilst also raising further questions on whether the Sprint Qualifying could be of better use on some of the sport’s somewhat less exciting circuits where the main Grand Prix is usually a forgettable affair.

However, if the racing wasn’t good at Silverstone, one of the more exciting tracks on the Formula 1 calendar, then Sprint Qualifying will become a forgettable part of the Grand Prix weekend if the idea fails to spice up the action on some of the tamer circuits on the calendar.

Perhaps it would have been wise to have the practice session on Friday but have both the Sprint Qualifying and the actual Qualifying session on the same day, with the Sprint Qualifying’s grid which would be determined by times set in the second practice session instead of the third practice session, with Qualifying remaining in the afternoon and deciding the grid for Sunday’s race.

Formula 1’s current weekend schedule of three one-hour practice sessions, qualifying, and the race has worked well this year. Still, if there’s room for any change in the format Formula 1 currently has, it should reconsider the return of the Sunday warm-up session to give fans an extra look at the cars they pay money to see, rather than a short sprint race that is over in a flash and devalues from the standard qualifying session.

F1

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July 20, 2021 at 07:14PM

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