F1 enters the final Sprint event of the season at the São Paulo
Grand Prix with the sport still remaining undecided on the success
of the format. Trials were held at three races in 2021 before a
format tweak was made for last season, whilst the current campaign
had three extra Sprints added to the schedule and another change to
the format. After three years of discovery, should the Sprints stay
or go? The positives There is no doubt that, in theory, the Sprint
format brings more excitement than a normal weekend. Two practice
sessions are replaced by two separate qualifying sessions and
followed by a 100km race on the Saturday afternoon which is, of
course, far more enticing for those watching. A critical change
this season was to introduce the second qualifying session – the
Sprint Shootout – to create a Saturday separated from the main
Grand Prix. This decision ensured any excitement generated from a
mixed-up grid set on Friday was not undone during the Sprint. At
some circuits, the Sprint has been successful – Qatar provided an
exciting spectacle and this weekend’s venue has been given a Sprint
all three years such has been the level of racing achieved.
However, it’s not been completely rosy for the format… The
negatives Other events have had rather lacklustre Sprints on
Saturdays, not least the recent United States Grand Prix. In these
races, it feels as though a major clue is being given out as to how
cars will perform on long runs ahead of the main event and take
away the nervous energy all fans generate before lights out. Then
there is the long-standing argument of whether it is artificially
generating excitement and, whilst this can be argued either way,
the most hardcore fan demographic will always hold this against the
format. What doesn’t help is the fact Max Verstappen secured his
title on a Saturday this season, which left a sour taste for many.
Teams use practice sessions to tune their cars into an optimum
performance window ahead of qualifying and the race each weekend
and with such a level of detail, this is how gaps are often reduced
between each team on the timesheets. But with only one practice
hour on a Sprint weekend, set-up errors are often made and this can
lead to large gaps between teams, only contributing to more dour
races rather than creating excitement – this is why calls have been
made to relax parc fermé rules. Opinion is very much divided on the
subject, with some drivers backing the format and others – namely
Verstappen – strongly against it. Ultimately though, as Red Bull
Team Principal Christian Horner indicated in Austin, the point of
the Sprints was to stimulate the watching public and as such, it
must come down to the fans’ opinion as to whether the format should
continue next season, or whether further changes should be made.

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