A Look Back at the First Sprint Qualifying Weekend in F1

A Look Back at the First Sprint Qualifying Weekend in F1 Photo: TT
Drivers and their teams prepare for the start the Sprint Qualifying of the British Formula One Grand Prix, at the Silverstone circuit. Saturday, July 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Jon Super).

Now we have had time to process last weekend’s events at the British Grand Prix, let’s take an in-depth look through the concept of Sprint Qualifying, a new weekend schedule introduced in Formula One at Silverstone.

From the inception of the Formula One World Championship in 1950, the Silverstone circuit has played a pivotal role in the series.

Throughout their history together, Silverstone has always been a scenario where the passion for the sport excels, fierce competition never escapes the high-speed corners, with drivers leaving their marks printed on the asphalt as in the memory of millions of fans.

In 2021, tradition and innovation met at the racetrack to introduce a new chapter in the sport as a full-scale model of the 2022 F1 car broke cover, and a new qualifying format, designed to increase on-track action, took place for the first time.

F1 Sprint is the name of the new qualifying format for the race on Sunday, and where there is change, the debate is guaranteed.

On Saturday, Sports Pundit spoke with Mario Isola, Pirelli Head of F1 and Car Racing- after the pole sitter was determined - to ask him about his assessment on the F1 Sprint.

What are your impressions after the F1 Sprint that took place today?

I want to be optimistic because it is the first time that we have had this Sprint Qualifying.

We had a very interesting Friday, and it is usually just feedback; for sure, the format is not, let’s say, perfect. But it was already decided that after this first weekend, we will have a discussion with the FIA and the teams in their sporting committee, in order to understand if any fine-tuning is necessary for the next one, that will be after the summer; I believe it was a successful test.

It is an additional change compared to the previous situation, and I am positive.

Today (Saturday), we had a Sprint Qualifying on 17 laps that was really interesting with some nice battles.

Lewis [Hamilton] is not in pole position because Max [Verstappen] took the lead in the Sprint Qualifying.

Fernando [Alonso] was able to get four more opposition or up to the grid, Esteban [Ocon], as well, both starting on the soft compound. It was interesting to see different strategies.

There was a lot of degradation on both tyres, medium, and softs. Was it expected?

Yeah, for sure, it was expected.

They took the gamble and decided to have this different approach for the Sprint Qualifying, pushing a lot from the beginning, knowing that they had to protect a little bit the position at the last part of the session.

So as you know, Fernando was able to get five positions at the beginning of the race, and then he lost two.If you consider the plus and the minus at the end of the day, it was good; it paid off.

HOW IT ALL HAPPENED

As presented, the racing weekend started on Friday, consisting of a First Free Practice, followed by a one-hour qualifying (Q1, Q2, Q3) session, which formed up the grid of the F1 Sprint qualifying held on Saturday.

A full crowd watched seven-time world champion, Hamilton, earning first place, followed by Red Bull Racing’s Verstappen and MercedesValtteri Bottas in third.

The British fans celebrated as if the reigning champion has achieved pole position on any given Saturday, but it wasn’t the case.

Throughout the series history, the fastest driver earns pole position, but that is not how F1 Sprint works.

As the FIA explained when the Formula 1 Commission approved the adoption of a Sprint Qualifying last May, the new format also aims to give others the chance to battle their way through the field on Saturday to increase their race chances on Sunday.

On Thursday, Formula One World champion Nico Rosberg tweeted: “This is not the right decision. Pole 100% has to go to the fastest guy in Qualifying. The sprint race winner should not be awarded pole position. That will totally cannibalize the historic F1 statistics.”

Following Friday’s session, all cars headed into Parc Ferme, where rules forbid the changing of major components aiming to stop the construction of qualifying cars, limit the number of hours required for preparing the cars for the following day, and allow enough reconfiguration to make Saturday morning Free Practice a useful session.

On Saturday morning, the second Free Practice (sixty minutes) of the weekend took place.

Hours later, the cars were lining up on the grid for the F1 Sprint, which would set the pole-sitter and the results for Sunday’s race.

Sprint Qualifying runs over 100 kilometers - 17 laps in the case of the British racetrack, with the drivers fighting for the pole flat out for at least half of the session before some drivers began to experience tyre degradation developing blisters on the softs and medium compounds.

Verstappen claimed his fifth pole position this season at the first F1 Sprint, with Hamilton and Bottas crossing the finish line in second and third, respectively.

The outcome of the session awarded championship points to the top three drivers. The poleman earned three points, the second place two, and the third received one point.

Alonso stole the show; wearing soft tyres, the Spaniard made an impressive start, jumping from 11th position to 5th in the first lap, managing to qualify seventh with Alpine F1 Team.

At some point, to wonder whether to call the event Sprint Qualifying or Sprint Race was inevitable because it did felt like a race, looked like a race, though it wasn’t.

THE RULES

The Grand Prix format remains unchanged during an F1 Sprint weekend, and a limited number of components are able to be changed after qualifying.

The Power Unit and gearbox cooling may be adjusted by altering the engine cover outlets, providing the declared ambient temperatures recorded by the FIA appointed weather service provider one hour before the start of Qualifying and one hour before the start of Sprint Qualifying varies by 10 degrees Centigrade or more.

THE TYRES

On Friday morning, the teams can choose freely two sets of tyres ahead of the First Free Practice. For Qualifying in the afternoon, five soft tyre sets are available.

On Saturday, the teams can choose one set of tyres for the second Free Practice session in the morning.

In the afternoon, two sets of tyres are available ahead of the 100km Sprint Qualifying. For the Grand Prix on Sunday, there are two remaining sets of tyres.

WHAT IS NEXT?

The adoption of the new format received approval to take place at three Grand Prix during the 2021 FIA Formula One World Championship.

The first of two European venues began at Silverstone, while Monza could be next, but that is yet subject to confirmation.

The non-European and third venue is not determined; the Brazilian Grand Prix appears as a strong candidate though due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, there has been no announcement regarding the event.

Cecilia demartini
Sports Pundit staff writer @ceci_2812
Cecilia is a writer and a journalist passionate about sports, particularly motorsport, tennis, and soccer

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