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Five new formats to spice up F1's Sprint Saturdays

FEATURE BY GUEST AUTHORS
02/11/2023

Less than a year after updating the Sprint race regulations, F1 bosses are preparing to cook up another bland iteration of the concept. Their kitchen should be condemned.

When it comes to Sprint weekends, rule makers have shown all the imagination of a traditional English dinner chef. They've yet to serve any dishes other than a long race with a short race on the side. While the format gave fans a fresh taste of action for the first few bites, most have come to realize that Saturday's appetizer is spoiling Sunday's entree.

Now there's talk of reverse grids, $1 million prizes, and a stand-alone Sprint championship. But these ingredients won't give the Sprint race a distinct flavour. Changing the points allocation or doling out jackpots doesn't solve the problem that the Sprint and Grand Prix are just different sized portions of the same meal.

Instead, imagine a menu for selected Saturdays that offers multiple formats - never duplicated across a season - each of which bring unique challenges for drivers, create new talking points for fans, and foster a few surprises along the way. If F1 bosses really want to up the sport's spice level, here's the recipe.

Note: each proposed format uses the current Sprint-weekend set-up for Friday (FP1 and GP Qualy) and Sunday (GP).

Format 1: The Heats

Bahrain Grand Prix

F1 and rallycross have little in common. That changes with this format, which introduces five-car heat races and joker laps to Saturday's festivities. And that's not all. While dirt and snow isn't realistic for open-wheel cars, a wet surface is! That's why the joker section is continuously watered with sprinklers (an idea once peddled by Mr. E.) to a point that makes slick-tire running tricky, but not dangerous. This event rewards drivers who master the dual conditions and time the joker lap just right.

Logistics:

Mid-afternoon running starts with a twenty-minute practice where drivers try the wet joker section, running from turns five to fourteen of Bahrain's Endurance layout. Next comes thirty-minutes of qualifying to seed the heats. Two consecutive laps - one of which must be a joker - count as each driver's qualifying time. Drivers can make multiple attempts to set a fast time.

When the sun sets, the heats begin. Four preliminary races of five-cars each kickoff the evening, with seeds distributed so that higher-seeded drivers face lower-seeded opponents. For added jeopardy, drivers start from a randomly ordered, three-by-two grid to encourage closer racing into turn one. Each heat runs for four laps, with drivers free to choose when they take their mandatory joker. The four preliminary winners advance to the A Final, while the four second-place finishers make the B Final. Any heat impacted by a safety-car or VSC is red flagged, then rerun from the beginning without the stranded car(s).

To discourage team orders, points count toward the Drivers Championship only. Points are awarded for the A Final result (16, 12, 9, 6) and the B Final result (4, 3, 2, 1).

Format 2: The Reserves

Miami Grand Prix

Sprint races could be thrilling ... with different drivers, that is. Here's a concept that puts backups in the spotlight. Imagine an F1 Sprint with the likes of Palou, Pourchaire, Drugovich and Chadwick! That's exactly what happens in this event, with teams free to use any driver from their reserve, test or development lineup - Super Licence holder or not. And, because the regular Grand Prix runners have no interest in loaning their cars to these shunt-happy youngsters, F1 pays for each team to bring an extra chassis (like the old T-car days) to this event.

Logistics:

The opening session includes forty minutes of practice, immediately followed by twenty minutes of qualifying for all ten runners. Then, in the heat of the late-afternoon sun, a twenty-lap race - run to the standard rules - crowns the fastest reserve.

Because these drivers are not part of the official Drivers Championship, points count for the Constructors standings only. The top nine finishers score as follows: 20, 14, 10, 8, 6, 4, 3, 2, 1. An additional 5 points are awarded for pole, and 1 for the fastest race lap.

Format 3: The Tournament

British Grand Prix

Taking a page from Mario Kart's "Versus" mode, these one-on-one showdowns pit drivers against their rivals in a single-elimination bracket, seeded by championship order. And, because opponents start side-by-side (not staggered) and race for just one lap, underdogs have a fair chance to upset favourites. For an added twist, DRS is available immediately after the first corner and can be used on any section of the track by the trailing driver, even if they're more than a second behind.

Logistics:

Saturday's first track action features four preliminary races, with the top twelve seeds receiving a bye. In each race, the highest seed chooses the inside or outside starting position. If two opponents fail to finish, neither advance.

The session continues with the Round of Sixteen. From this point onward, drivers must use the same set of tires. That means winners who push too hard jeopardize their chances for later rounds. Eight drivers advance to the late-afternoon matches, featuring the quarters, semis, B Final and, lastly, the A Final - from which the tournament champion emerges.

To prevent team orders in a teammate versus teammate scenario, points count for the Drivers Championship only. The A Final winner and runner up score 16 and 12 points respectively, while the B Final winner and runner up score 9 and 6. The four quarterfinal losers earn 3 points each.

Format 4: The Relay

Italian Grand Prix

Far from the contentious years where Prost and Senna teamed up at McLaren, most of today's pairings appear to get along. Even K-Mag and the Hulk act like besties. Well, here's a format that puts teamwork to the test in a twenty-lap relay race.

Logistics:

Saturday qualifying, to set the starting order for the relay race that follows, sees teammates work together, offering tows, to achieve their best lap times. At session's end, the fastest times from both drivers are combined to give each team an aggregate qualifying time.

The day's feature begins with ten cars (one from each team) taking a standing start. On the tenth lap, drivers pit and immediately pull into parc fermé. As each driver crosses the pit entry line, they trigger a countdown timer that determines when their teammate, waiting in their pit box, can hit the throttle and take over the race in their own car for the final ten laps. The countdown time differs slightly for each team to curb advantages for those stationed further head in the pitlane.

With teammates collaborating, points count toward the Constructors Championship only. The top nine finishers score as follows: 20, 14, 10, 8, 6, 4, 3, 2, 1. An additional 5 points are awarded for pole, and 1 for the fastest race lap.

Format 5: The Countdown

Las Vegas Grand Prix

This format is inspired by an ineffective idea from the past (2016's elimination-style qualifying) and an inevitable idea from the future (reverse grids). The resulting combination ups Saturday's drama, especially for those at the head of the championship standings.

Logistics:

As Saturday twilight sets in, all twenty cars line up on the grid in reverse championship order for a fifteen-minute race. After six minutes, the driver running at the back of the field is eliminated. Each minute that follows, the last-place runner is cut until ten drivers are out. Any safety-car or VSC incident causes an immediate red flag, and the race is restarted from the point it left off, plus one minute.

The ten survivors advance to a two-stage race under the Vegas lights. Starting in the finishing order from the first race, drivers compete for another fifteen minutes. When time is up, the bottom five runners are eliminated. The five leaders return to the grid in running order for standing start. They complete a ten-minute final stage with no eliminations.

Points count toward both the Drivers and Constructors Championships and are awarded based on the results of the final race as follows: 16, 12, 9, 6, 4. The five drivers eliminated in the final's opening stage receive 1 point each, while 1 point is awarded to the driver with the fastest lap across all the day's countdown races.

It's time to move beyond the Sprint

Traditionalists may lose their lunch over these proposals. But like it or not, F1 operates in a landscape that combines a forever-expanding race calendar with forever-contracting attention spans. The series simply can't use the traditional format, race after race, for twenty-four events next year. Indeed, they'll need a charcuterie board of ideas to entice their audience. In the way fast-food chains are moving beyond beef, the world's fastest sport needs to move beyond the Sprint.

Brian Richardson
brianrich1@outlook.com

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READERS COMMENTS

 

1. Posted by zoom, 17/02/2024 17:49

"For the 1st time in over 20 years, I missed an entire F1 season. (due to family illness). Came over here to sort of get back up to speed only to find an alternative universe. In business there's the 80/20 rule. An important application of this rule is that one spends 80% of available resources on existing customers(fans) & 20% on new customer acquisition. I was not a fan of the sprint format. I'm finding that the add-ons are taking over. I suspect I won't be following f1 this year but intentionally. <sigh>"

Rating: Neutral (0)     Rate comment: Positive | NegativeReport this comment

2. Posted by F1nerd, 13/11/2023 22:20

"They have got F2, F3 and F1 academy that should put enough spice into the weekend and leave F1 to do the 3 practice sessions, qualifying and race. Who needs (or wants) sprint races."

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3. Posted by Max Noble, 11/11/2023 11:05

"@ClarkwasGod - well said. I’d be in favour of only reserve and/or up and coming drivers driving the sprint. Not the main GP drivers. Then this set of drivers have their own driver series to which points would be awarded… but the team points would add to the team total for the GP team… Now that makes it worth racing for! Also agree we need additional cars… which goes against the entire cost saving thing. You do not want Carlos Von Tripps Alot destroying the car the day before V. Max requires it to win the championship… F1 and Liberty are working themselves into a very award corner over this one… Sadly, not that this would be a first…
"

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4. Posted by ClarkwasGod, 09/11/2023 7:16

"As with the rule "book" (maybe better to call it a rule "room" given the number and complexity), the more that is added, the more opaque it becomes. Whenever I (am forced to) watch Am. Football, I am constantly perplexed/irritated/downright annoyed by the stupid and petty rules - did the received actually "catch" the ball blah blah blah. Even my (Texan) wife complains about it!

If we HAVE to have this sprint scenario, then, as already said elsewhere here, make it a stand alone series, and also only for the teams' elected reserve drivers. But - return to the scenario that allows them to construct a spare car, which is used specifically for the sprint - thus the GP cars will be safe, and sprint racing not compromised by the concern over jeopordising the main event which is, let us not forget, the SOLE reason the whole thing is taking place at all. Changes to the parc ferme rules could (should) be changed to allow more freedom of setup (not change of components).

Adding gimics only serves to devalue the essence of a Grand Prix.

Ans as for the "forever-expanding calendar", we're already a long way down that road of devaluation. Those of us who were around to remember when there were only relatively few Grands Prix, will recall the anticipation before the event, and the emotions during. Having them almost on a weekly basis brings them down toward the level of club racing, or, of course, Nascar. WEC have got the right idea, even if they could actually increase the number a little - by limiting the rounds, each one is eagerly anticipated."

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5. Posted by KKK, 07/11/2023 18:36

"Im sorry but I dont agree with the view "F1 operates in a landscape that combines a forever-expanding race calendar with forever-contracting attention spans. The series simply can't use the traditional format, race after race, for twenty-four events next year."
It is like changing the format of Football....lets have different size goals depending on your position in the league, or how about "rotating" the players so that they all get a go, have at least 3 women in your teams, or better still, goalkeepers have to play every 5th game as center forward...F1 is F1 , if you want to watch something "better" go to E racing, just leave F1 as it was, and should be"

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6. Posted by Max Noble, 03/11/2023 6:07

"Some interesting ideas. Some are similar to cycling where “Devil take the hind most” is a track race format, as is motor pacing. I’m thinking Madison, Keirin (developed for gambling in Japan in the 40’s - so for the same reason as the formats in this article… to spice things up, and make them quick) and elimination or “Snap dragon” cycle racing whereby the last few riders are eliminated every few laps. The inverse of the elimination race is the “winner of the first sprint is out - but wins. There a few more laps… another sprint, and the next winner is eliminated, and has secured second… and so on…

So many formats. Each with an interesting angle. But just as Rugby Union is not league. Cricket is not baseball. Soccer is not grid iron. Tennis is not volleyball… etc… which formats do we really care about?

The Tour de France takes three weeks, with each daily stage being anything up to five hours of riding… Yet it is a global success. Me thinks the real problem is F1 wants “Too many fans.” It already has a strong follow of “A lot” yet it wants even more…
"

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7. Posted by RP, 02/11/2023 18:07

"I agree with motor sports fan #7 - I thought it was a little early for April Fools day. They might need more than one extra car to make it through all the collisions and subsequent damage that might occur.
Why not just set up a quarter mile drag strip - consult the NHRA for help - and, you might get some interesting results. And, a lot less carbon fibre pieces flying around
Anything that includes saving tires is a loser. As it is, the cars cannot race for the entire race because the tires can't make it through a single stint as it is.
Why not really go wild and crazy and let the teams build cars within a set of regulations simplified to a few things like engine size, weight, length, width wheelbase, no movable aero surfaces, etc. Just a bunch of innovative racing machines that don't look the same and no regulations designed to equalize things - we have nascar for that."

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8. Posted by Superbird70, 02/11/2023 17:37

"The US had the IROC series with spec Camaros. It was standalone and somewhat entertaining, but not real racing.
So now we have 6 solutions to a problem no one wanted in the first place. Things can only get worse if the sprints are kept."

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9. Posted by habentsen, 02/11/2023 14:38

"I see Martin Schanche making a run for F1 if they introduce the joker lap."

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10. Posted by Chester, 02/11/2023 12:53

"F1 peddling Sprints that no one wants. IndyCar, which I started watching again after a 20 year hiatus, is looking better by the day."

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11. Posted by Burton, 02/11/2023 12:41

"Great read, this is exactly the type of stuff Liberty would want but are too chicken to admit! Run the whole thing with the reserves as a support series and leave the GP alone."

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12. Posted by Editor, 02/11/2023 12:01

"Motorsport-fan

Long, long before Liberty came along we were suggesting that a Procar series is exactly what was needed, especially during those times of one team/ driver domination."

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13. Posted by F1nerd, 02/11/2023 11:28

"The best way to spice up the weekend would be to scrap the sprint altogether."

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14. Posted by Motorsport-fan, 02/11/2023 11:12

"Should have saved this for April 1st!

Remember the BMW Procar series, that would be fun to watch in a modern day guise, all the F1 drivers competing in identical cars in a race just for fun on a Saturday, draw lots for your grid position and which car you have and away you go, would make great TV, lets see the lawyers sort that out for it to happen. "

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