Just what are F1 sprint qualifying races? The British Grand Prix weekend format looks different to normal, due to the introduction of the Sprint Qualifying Race. This is the first of three planned races where this new weekend schedule will be used, with a novel way of deciding the grid for Sunday’s race.
What Are F1 Sprint Qualifying Races?
On Friday, teams have just one 60-minute practice session to tune the car, before heading into the standard three-part Qualifying format we are all familiar with. The result of the normal Qualifying session decides the grid for the Sprint Qualifying Race.
On Saturday, there is a second and final 60-minute practice session, before the new, 100-kilometre Sprint Qualifying Race begins. At Silverstone, this will be a 17-lap sprint to the flag to determine the order for Sunday’s main event.
The new format has been introduced by F1, the FIA and the teams to spice up the weekend, add a few new variables and bring an extra challenge to the weekend. It is one that all of the teams face together, so is a step into the unknown for everyone…
The modified schedule means there is less practice time for the drivers and teams to fine-tune the car set-up. FP1 on Friday will be the only real chance to try low-fuel runs for the Qualifying session later that day, because FP2 on Saturday will be focused on higher-fuel running, to get the car ready for Sunday’s race.
How Do Sprint Qualifying Races Impact The Teams From An Engineering Perspective?
It does have quite an impact, with one of the key factors the engineers must account for being that the cars go into parc fermé after the opening practice session on Friday. Once the car is in parc fermé, there is very little they can change as it is effectively locked in for the weekend.
As a result, there is significant pressure on that first practice session to figure out the set-up for both the low and high fuel runs, plus considerations on the Power Unit and brake cooling. If you get those parameters wrong, it could be a painful weekend from that point onwards – as the car specification has to be fixed for the standard Qualifying session and beyond.
There is also a much shorter amount of time to work on the car, due to parc fermé rules coming into force, so the mechanics and engineers have just three and a half hours to carry out work on the car. Some of this time will be spent with the FIA checking the legality of the car and making the necessary scrutineering checks. Teams will get the car back on Saturday morning prior to FP2 for another three hours.
On a typical race weekend, the team has seven and a half hours on a Friday evening to work on the car. So timeframes will be more condensed under the new format and there will be additional pressure on the mechanics and engineers to fit a lot of work into less time.
Do Sprint Qualifying Races Impact The Way The Teams Will Work Trackside?
It will impact how they work at the track and how they work with the drivers. It’s a very different race weekend, one we haven’t seen before, so teams will have looked at the whole thing afresh – from how analysis work is scheduled, to re-programming their simulation work leading up to the event, and of course, their mechanical work on the cars around the sessions. Everything will shift to adapt to the new schedule.
Again, one of the key points is the pressure to get the spec of the car right in a much shorter space of time, with just one practice session before Qualifying. After the first event at Silverstone, it’ll then be about sitting down, discussing what worked well, what didn’t work well and involving the drivers in those discussions and decisions too, so we’re well prepared for the next one.
From The Driver’s Perspective, How Will The Weekend Change?
In terms of less practice, it means you either find the flow and the set-up direction, or you don’t. There isn’t as much time to react and trial set-up tweaks, if you haven’t found the right set-up, so if you find it quicker, that will give an advantage.
This means there could be more variability, particularly in the Qualifying order. “The usual format has been pretty standard apart from a couple of weekends where there has been less practice, so it will be nice to try something different and see if it is going to really mix up the weekend,” said Valtteri Bottas. “I guess it can go really against you or for you, but we will find out.”
Drivers love racing and the Sprint Qualifying format means some extra racing, so that’s no bad thing. Valtteri adds: “More to follow for the fans and more racing for us so once we do it in Silverstone and hopefully in two other Grands Prix, I am sure we can draw a good conclusion if that’s the way to go forward in the future in some races or not.”
The start and first lap is one of the riskiest moments for a driver and sets the driver up for the race they have to come, so having two standing starts to contend with, firstly in the Sprint Qualifying Race and then the standard Sunday event, will add extra drama and pressure. Losing out in the Sprint Qualifying Race will have a big impact on the main race, and could make your Sunday very tricky.
What Are F1 Sprint Qualifying Races? Video Explainer
Sprint Qualifying Races debut at this weekend’s British Grand Prix. This video features interviews with three team personnel from Mercedes-AMG Petronas; Ron Meadows (Sporting Director), Andrew Shovlin (Trackside Engineering Director) and Valtteri Bottas (driver of Car No.77).