The F1 Sprint is set to make a return for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix weekend in 2023, with six Sprints scheduled for the season. However, the format remains divisive among drivers, team principals, pundits, and fans.
Introduced in 2021, the Sprint race is a 100km race held on Saturday of a race weekend, with qualifying moved to Friday instead. It was created to provide more competitive action for fans, with F1 executives not keen on practice sessions that do not excite the audience.
F1 Chief Executive Stefano Domenicali has proposed to the World Motor Sport Council that the Saturday morning practice session be replaced with a second qualifying session that sets the grid for the short-form race. In contrast, the Friday session would decide the order for Sunday’s Grand Prix.
Domenicali believes that fans are coming to see the performance, and giving teams and drivers a chance to show who they are is better for the show. He acknowledges the importance of practice but also recognizes the need for change.
However, this proposed change has caused a fierce debate within the paddock and among fans. A social media poll found that 56.2% of fans are happy with the current format, indicating that almost half are open to change.
Among the drivers, Max Verstappen has been the fiercest critic of the Sprint format. He believes the weekend becomes too intense with all the different races and practices, and he has even threatened to leave the sport if there are too many changes. However, not everyone feels such evolution should be as dramatic as proposed.
There is concern over the potential cost to teams if Sprint races become permanent, with Red Bull boss Christian Horner and McLaren chief Zak Brown voicing their worries. Horner also highlighted the potential for costly crashes on the tight streets of Baku and called the decision “absolutely ludicrous.”
However, not everyone is against the format. George Russell, the most recent Sprint winner in Sao Paulo last year, believes that Formula 1 has too much practice, and no practice would be too little. He added that F1 is still the pinnacle of the sport, and teams should have the opportunity to try out new things.
The Sprint format remains divisive, with strong opinions on both sides. While some believe change is necessary for the sport to evolve, others are concerned about the potential cost and safety risks associated with Sprint races. Only time will tell if the format will become a permanent fixture in Formula 1.