With the 2021 Formula 1 season, the FIA introduced sprint races as part of a new qualifying system. In previous years, grid position was determined by each driver's lap times during the qualifying session, but last year the FIA experimented with a new format for qualifying. This new format was deemed a success, and it's likely that it'll be around for future Formula 1 seasons.
In this article, we'll be talking all about sprint races in Formula 1. We'll be going over everything you should know about them, including how long they are and how the starting grid of a sprint race is determined.
Sprint races have been used in Formula 2 for a while, but it's only been recently that they've made their debut in Formula 1. If you aren't familiar, a sprint race is a race shorter than a Grand Prix that is also held during a race weekend.
Sprint races are about 1/3 the length of a Grand Prix (100 km for a sprint race compared to 305 km for a Grand Prix) and usually take about 30 minutes to complete. While it's mandatory during a Grand Prix for every driver to make at least one pit stop, pit stops are not required during a sprint race (although drivers can still make one if they have to).
The inclusion of sprint races in Formula 1 means drivers spend more time directly competing against each other for an advantageous grid position, and also means that teams have less time to work on their setups for the race weekend, which should hopefully lead to faster-paced, more exciting events.
The drivers who do best in the sprint race also receive a small amount of World Championship points that contribute to their overall standing in the championship. In an actual Grand Prix, the drivers who place first, second, and third receive 25, 18, and 15 points respectively, whereas first, second, and third place in a sprint race earns drivers 3, 2, and 1 points respectively.
In earlier years, a race weekend was scheduled like this: on Friday, the teams would be given three hours total for practice sessions, during which they make sure the car is assembled correctly and that everything is running as it should. They would use the data collected from testing to finalize the car's setup and determine a strategy for the actual race.
On Saturday, the teams would get one final practice session, and then qualifying would begin. In the traditional format, this qualifying involves the drivers running hot laps around the circuit, with the fastest drivers being put closer to the front of the starting grid for the actual race. Sunday is, of course, the day of the actual race.
With this new qualifying format, however, things are a bit different. A race weekend still lasts from Friday to Sunday, and the race still happens on Sunday, but those are pretty much the only similarities between the two formats.
In the new format, Friday also starts with a practice session, but teams only get a single one-hour session for testing instead of two 90-minute sessions. After this session ends there are three qualifying sessions, but this time, these sessions determine the starting grid for the sprint race.
Saturday also begins with a final practice session, but now instead of three qualifying sessions, the main event on Saturday is the sprint race. Now, the finishing position of the drivers in the sprint race is what determines the starting order on the grid for the actual Grand Prix, with the winning driver taking pole position.
Sundays remain unchanged from the original format, with the main race happening either during the afternoon or at night.
At this point, you might be wondering why the FIA decided to try out this new format for race weekends to begin with. After all, there wasn't really anything wrong with the original format; it gave the teams plenty of time to get their cars set up, and it just made sense. So what prompted them to perform this experiment?
Basically, it's an effort to make race weekends more entertaining for Formula 1 fans. By reducing the amount of time teams have for testing and practice and by increasing the time drivers spend competing for the best position on the grid, the FIA hopes to make race weekends just a little more exciting in general.
This new qualifying format was tried out three times in 2021, at the British, Italian, and Brazilian Grand Prix. It was generally deemed to be a success by race organizers and many of the drivers, based on the fact that the races where this format was used saw increased engagement from fans.
If the FIA decides to keep this format for the 2022 Formula 1 season, it's likely that it'll be used on select race weekends rather than throughout the course of the whole season. The idea is not for the sprint format to replace the existing format entirely, but rather for the sprint format to be used as kind of a special occasion.
For the most part, the inclusion of sprint races in Formula 1 has been deemed pretty successful by fans, drivers, and teams, with the general consensus being that sprint races do indeed make race weekends a lot more entertaining.
Fernando Alonso, who currently drives for the Alpine Formula 1 team, stated that sprint races were "good for the people". He mentioned the fact that while practice sessions are very important for the teams, they don't always make for entertaining TV, and that Formula 1 needs to do stuff like this to keep engagement up.
Of course, there has been a bit of criticism concerning sprint races as well. When discuccsing the new sprint races, Haas driver Mick Schumacher stated that while sprint races would make race weekends more fun for audiences, they would also make things a lot more challenging for the teams themselves, thanks to having less time to test and fine-tune their cars before a race.