Formula One will feature a new sprint format at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix after unanimous agreement among the crews to make a modification.
Pending official ratification of the change, F1 is dropping Saturday’s practice session, which usually precedes the sprint race, in favor of a standalone qualifying session for that event. It means Friday’s qualifying session will now set the race for the grand prix on Sunday, with the outcome of the sprint having no bearing on how a driver starts the main race.
The top eight finishers in a sprint race will receive points (handed out 8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1).
The schedule of a sprint weekend will now run as follows: Friday: Practice, Qualifying, Saturday: Sprint Qualifying, Sprint Race, Sunday: Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
The format is still controversial — reigning world champion Max Verstappen is one of the biggest critics of the sprint concept.
Baku is one of six events being held under the sprint format — Austria, Belgium, Qatar, Austin’s U.S. Grand Prix and Brazil are the other five. The reason for the change is F1 boss Stefano Domenicali wants to make all three days of race weekend mean something to a spectator.
Ferrari boss Fred Vasseur stated the sprint weekend change, which will feature every time that format is used this year, is a rare moment of agreement among the teams.
“For once I think all the teams were aligned — it’s not very often that it’s the case so we have to jump on it,” Vasseur told reporters. “The format is more dynamic and you can discuss about doing it so late [before the race] but at the end of the day I think if we’re all aligned then we have to push for it.
“I like the format. I’m not a big fan of the usual FP2, sometimes it’s a bit boring — not for us because we have a lot of data — but I can imagine for the spectators and even for you if you don’t know about the level of fuel, the engine mode and so on it’s probably a bit boring, and to try to have something more dynamic during the weekend is a good decision.”
Domenicali recently caused a stir by saying he is in favor of cancelling all practice sessions, something he thinks would benefit F1 from a spectator point of view.
“Of course, there needs to be the time for practice, but the people are coming to see performance and the more that you give the teams and drivers the chance to see who they are, the better it is for the show,” Domenicali told Sky Sports during the Australian Grand Prix.
“It’s not because we don’t respect the traditions, we respect the old way of thinking of our weekend, but it would be wrong not to think about it. We also have a new generation that are coming in that are more aggressive in asking for something different.”
Speaking about the removal of the second practice session for the sprint qualifying session, Vasseur added: “It’s true that if you watch football you’re not watching the session on Wednesday when they are training in the stadium, and we are probably the only sport where we are putting the training session on TV.”