Formula 1 is a sport that cherishes its history and embraces its traditions, but is also founded on the innovation and evolution in the cars’ technology. The latest of traditions to be changed has been the weekend format that sets up the Grand Prix on Sundays.
Fear not fans who may worry when something seems unnecessarily changed, this is just a three race test to see if there is a better format. It also seems right to try it in 2021, which has been established as a transition year ahead of the massive regulation changes coming next season.
What does the new format look like?
The weekend will kick off with a practice session like we are used to, lasting an hour. Then in the afternoon, a qualifying session will take place to shape the grid for Saturday’s sprint race of 100km. After Friday’s qualifying the cars will be in Parc Ferme, but they will have any choice of tyre for Saturday’s race. Before jumping into the sprint race, teams get another practice session on Saturday morning.
The sprint race is 100km long, just shy of a third of a GP, and drivers will not be forced to pit unless they have to. The finishing order of the sprint race on Saturday sets the grid for the big event, Sunday’s Grand Prix. However, points can be gained on Saturday as well, as the first, second and third placed drivers will receive three, two, and one point respectively.
What should we expect?
We should expect to see way more action then we have ever been used to. In a way, the weekend starts right from Friday with the good old qualifying session and action doesn’t stop until Sunday’s Grand Prix.
This is done for a reason, and that is to test if more action will bring more viewers to watch the events. F1, as many other organizations are doing, is looking to up their revenue and spread their popularity and reach in a difficult time.
If we were to compare two similar attempts at gaining revenue by adding more action, we can see that F1 is genuinely trying to embrace the traditional weekend format but at the same time adding something new and entertaining. On the other hand, if we were to consider the attempt of a Super League in the soccer world, it was not meant to embrace any of the history of the sport and broke every tradition you could probably think of. Yes it was way more action, but as the fans made clear, they didn’t like that compromise.
Could this become permanent?
If you’re someone who absolutely hates the sound of this new format, and would much rather see the current one stay for the future, then I’ve got bad news for you. If F1 sees that more racing equals more viewers and more spectators when the pandemic is resolved, then I think it’ll be very difficult for the current weekend format to remain.
Of course this is all hypothetical, as it is very much up to the fans to decide if they like this or not. Testing this will get F1 a lot of feedback on how their audience reacts to something like this, and surely they will make changes or not accordingly to the data they receive.
Personally, I don’t like the idea of having two races in one weekend because it does seem very wrong, however, the thought of a 20ish lap sprint race where it’s purely up to the drivers to get as high up the order as they can is mighty appealing.
Anything can happen in even 100km of racing, and the room for mistakes is much larger than in normal qualifying. Of course, there will be teams who will benefit from this and teams who won’t. The first example coming to mind is that of Williams, who are recovering from a couple of bad seasons. Their 2021 car has massively improved from its predecessors, however, we could say that it is slower then rivals Alfa Romeo.
In qualifying, Williams has been able to out-qualify Alfa Romeo, but pace over one lap and pace over almost 20 laps are two very different things. This isn’t the only example, but we could say that drivers who out-race their car, meaning they take the car to better performances than expected, are going to be at disadvantage during the sprint race.
In conclusion, don’t knock it until you try it is mostly what this is about. A sprint race might actually be beneficial for the sport and the new format can make room for more thrilling racing and give drivers the option to show their overtaking skills and pace more often.
If the case is that this format is not suitable for F1, then I’m sure the FIA will not go on to approve it as a full time substitute for the current one, which means that either way this goes, it’ll be a win win for the sport, and hopefully, for the fans.