The Brazilian Grand Prix: A Divisive Finale
The Brazilian Grand Prix is set to be the Formula 1 championship’s sixth and final Sprint weekend of the 2023 season, but drivers’ opinions on the format remain split. Introduced in 2021, F1’s Sprints initially served to determine the starting grid for the main grands prix. However, the format underwent revision and expansion for the 2023 season, which led to the creation of a standalone Sprint Saturday.
Under the current system, drivers are given only one hour of free practice on Fridays before qualifying for the grand prix. After qualifying, they enter parc ferme conditions for the rest of the weekend. Saturdays feature a truncated Sprint Shootout qualifying session, which determines a second grid for the 100km Sprint race itself.
The aim of the Sprint format is to inject excitement into the grand prix weekend, providing fans with more action and giving those in attendance something to look forward to each day. While this has been the case in some instances, such as Austria and Qatar this year, the Sprint typically serves as a forecast for the main event.
One driver who shares this sentiment is Carlos Sainz of Ferrari. He believes that Saturday’s Sprint race reveals too much about what will happen on Sunday, effectively acting as the first stint of the race. Sainz suggests that Formula 1 should try something different on Saturdays, such as reverse grids or single-lap qualifying, to keep experimenting with the format.
Sainz’s teammate, Charles Leclerc, while not necessarily opposed to the current format, believes that its use should be limited. He enjoys having only one free practice session and going straight into qualifying. However, Leclerc suggests that the Saturday format could be changed and improved, as having three practice sessions on Fridays can sometimes become tedious.
Several other drivers share similar views about the Saturday schedule, including Lewis Hamilton. He appreciates the single practice session followed by qualifying, as it offers a different format compared to the standard three practice sessions. Hamilton also mentions that his best Sprint race experience was when he started last, expressing his support for the idea of swapping the starting order.
Daniel Ricciardo of AlphaTauri urges Formula 1 to avoid following the path taken by MotoGP, where sprint races have become a mainstay. He believes that if it came down to a choice between the traditional format and sprint races, the conventional format should be preserved. However, Ricciardo welcomes the occasional use of Sprints at around six weekends throughout the season to add some excitement.
While some drivers express their concerns about the format, there are also those who defend it. Lance Stroll finds the Sprint format exciting as it provides constant action and more entertainment for viewers. He compares the recent weekend in Austin, which included a Sprint race, to the one in Mexico where the format was more traditional. Stroll believes that the Sprint race added spice and made it a more thrilling weekend.
Valtteri Bottas, another supporter of the Sprints, mainly appreciates the reduction in practice time. He has never been a fan of three practice sessions and prefers to have just one session followed by immediate action. However, he acknowledges that the current format may not favor all teams, as only the top eight can score points in the Sprints. Nonetheless, Bottas is happy to participate in a Sprint race.
Logan Sargeant echoes the sentiments of lower-performing teams, stating that the current format offers little reward for them. Additionally, he highlights that rookies would prefer not to miss out on two-thirds of the practice running they would normally receive.
Reigning champion Max Verstappen, known for his vocal criticism of the Sprint format, sarcastically expresses his enthusiasm for the races. He mocks the idea of being excited about the Sprints, suggesting that he is not a fan.
In conclusion, the Sprint format in Formula 1 remains a topic of debate among drivers. While some appreciate the additional excitement and changes it brings to the weekend, others criticize its ability to reveal too much about the main race. The opinions range from advocating for experimentation with different formats to limiting the number of Sprint weekends. Ultimately, Formula 1 will need to strike a balance that satisfies both drivers and fans while keeping the sport engaging and competitive.