Ivo Bozukov: The F1 Sprint Race

Ivo Bozukov serves as the vice president of energy transition at Forum Energy Technologies. A keen traveller for both work and pleasure, Ivaylo Bozoukov also takes a keen interest in several sports, particularly motor racing and F1.

This article will look at F1 sprint racing, a new format introduced in 2021 that has been shaking up the Grand Prix weekend programming schedule.

Sprint races were introduced to ensure a competitive event took place on each day of the race weekend, with qualifying on Friday, a sprint race on Saturday and the grand prix on Sunday. The sprint is essentially a shortened version of the normal race, staged over a shorter distance of 100 kilometres. They are used in several other series, including the Formula 2 race weekend.

The 2023 F1 season saw marked changes in the sprint race format, with Friday’s qualifying session only applying to Sunday’s grand prix, making the sprint action on Saturday entirely standalone from the rest of the weekend. Friday’s first and only practice session was scheduled for its usual slot before an hour-long qualifying session in the usual Q1-Q2-Q3 format, setting the grid for Sunday’s grand prix with no bearing on the sprint qualifying or sprint race staged on Saturday.

Whereas F1 previously held a practice session for the grand prix on Saturday, this has now been dropped in favour of a new sprint qualifying session, which is essentially a shorter version of ordinary qualifying, consisting of Q1: 12 minutes, Q2: 10 minutes, and Q3: 8 minutes. Sprint qualifying is staged on Saturday morning, with the sprint race held in the afternoon.

The 2023 sprint race is the same format and length as it was in 2022 and is the equivalent of a 100-kilometre race, enabling the top eight finishers to earn points. The winner can earn up to eight points, with second place scoring seven points and so on, with place eight earning one point. The grand prix takes place on Sunday as usual. Sprint qualifying replaces the grand prix practice session formerly held on Saturday mornings. Compared with regular qualifying, it is shorter, with different rules.

There is a seven-minute break between each segment of sprint qualifying. New tyres are mandatory for all cars in each qualifying phase, with medium tires used for Q1 and Q2 and soft tyres used for Q3. New sets are required for each segment of qualifying, as teams do not have time to go for multiple runs and therefore cannot pit for fresh tyres during each qualifying segment. Other than that, the rules for sprint qualifying are essentially the same as ordinary qualifying, with the bottom five dropping out in Q1 and again in Q2 before the top ten battle it out in Q3.

Grid penalties accrued prior to the race weekend, or during Friday’s practice and qualifying are applied to Sunday’s grand prix. While grid penalties picked up in sprint race qualifying on Saturday are applied to the sprint race, they are not applied to Sunday’s grand prix. However, a grid penalty arising from an incident during the sprint race itself is applied to the grand prix. Any parc ferme breach will result in pitlane starts for both the Grand Prix and the sprint race. However, unless it constitutes a parc ferme breach, any grid penalties applied for power unit changes only apply to Sunday’s grand prix.

In Q1, drivers have time for two runs, each of which could be separated by a pit stop. With shorter allotted time in Q2 and Q3, two timed laps are still possible, although drivers will not have enough time to stop for fresh tires, placing pressure on them to get the job done in Q1.

The change in Grand Prix weekend format and introduction of a sprint race essentially means that Saturday is a standalone event, with sprint qualifying and the sprint race having no impact on the Grand Prix. An incident in the sprint does not compromise the entire weekend, which many suggest should encourage drivers to push more in Saturday’s sprint. With qualifying on Friday determining the grid for the grand prix, Sunday’s grand prix programming runs unchanged.

The first sprint race of 2023, hosted in Baku, Azerbaijan, marked the first time a sprint race had been staged on a street track. Logan Sargeant of Williams crashed in sprint qualifying, with damage sustained ruling him out of the sprint race, although he was able to start in Sunday’s grand prix from the qualifying spot he secured in Friday’s qualifying session. While the sprint race format has gained mostly positive reactions, there are concerns that from the moment qualifying starts on Friday, teams cannot make car set-up changes without facing pitlane starts for both the sprint race and grand prix, with the result that car performance is essentially locked in for the entire weekend.

In 2021 and 2022, F1 limited sprint races to three events per season. This has been expanded to six rounds in 2023. The first took place in Azerbaijan in April, with others scheduled in Austria and Belgium in July, Qatar and the United States in October, and Brazil in November 2023.

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