Thursday, September 16News That Matters

F1 plans trialling shorter ‘sprint races’ to replace qualifying THIS season

Formula One is planning for one of its biggest ever weekend overhauls by binning the traditional fastest lap qualifying format and replacing it with a sprint race at certain races.

Since the world championship’s inception in 1950, race order starts have always been decided by the drivers who set the fastest laps across one or multiple qualifying sessions. 

However, in an attempt to boost the sport’s appeal across a race weekend, dramatic new proposals are set to be put to vote on Thursday which would see a short race of around 100km, about one third of a typical grand prix, contested on a Saturday to replace qualifying.

A sprint race could replace qualifying to decide the staring order for a Sunday grand prix

A sprint race could replace qualifying to decide the staring order for a Sunday grand prix

A sprint race could replace qualifying to decide the staring order for a Sunday grand prix

While still determining the order for Sunday’s race, the top eight finishers from the new qualifying format would pick up around half the points earned from a traditional race.

The order for the race on the Saturday would be determined by a qualifying session held on Friday, which would replace the day’s second practice session. 

The F1 Commission of senior figures will discuss the proposals on Thursday, with 28 of 30 votes needed to see it successfully passed.

F1 and the governing body the FIA have 10 votes each, with the rest going to the bosses of the Formula One teams.

Sprint races as an idea are not new to the sport but previous guises which saw it in the form of reverse grid races appear to have been dropped for good.

F1 president Stefano Domenicali confirmed trials for a sprint race could be held this year

F1 president Stefano Domenicali confirmed trials for a sprint race could be held this year

F1 president Stefano Domenicali confirmed trials for a sprint race could be held this year

TYPICAL F1 WEEKEND 

FRIDAY

Free practice one (90 mins)

Free practice two  (90 mins)

SATURDAY

Free practice three (60 mins)

Qualifying

SUNDAY

Race 

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With the most to lose from the idea, Mercedes were the main block to reverse grid races last term but are thought to be more open minded to the latest proposal.

F1 president Stefano Domenicali said in a news conference last week: ‘Reverse grid is over. It’s important to think of new ideas of being more attractive or interesting but we don’t have to lose the traditional approach of racing.

‘When we changed qualifying every couple of days [at the start of 2016], it burned our fingers.

‘Now, the formula is quite stable. We are looking at what could be the approach of the so-called sprint race on Saturday. We are thinking that could be tested maybe this year.’

Should the proposals be accepted it would be eased in on a trial basis, with three venues in Canada, Italy and Brazil all being considered.

Monza and Interlagos have often provided good circuits for overtaking in the past and should the format prove successful then more events could see sprint races in 2022.

Monza's long straights offer ideal overtaking spots making it a possible trial venue for the idea

Monza's long straights offer ideal overtaking spots making it a possible trial venue for the idea

Monza’s long straights offer ideal overtaking spots making it a possible trial venue for the idea

While it is yet to be seen if teams will accept the new proposals, F1 has been long looking for ways to enhance its appeal beyond race day and qualifying.

The format of two 90-minute practice sessions on Friday and a following hour the next day is only watched by the dedicated F1 supporter due to its minimal impact on the main events of the weekend.

Times set during these sessions are all but meaningless as teams focus on perfecting their car set-up.

Teams though could object to the idea of the sprint race on a cost basis in relation to the increased risk of suffering significant car damage in contrast to the more cleaner on track action of qualifying by setting a fast lap.