Opinion: F1’s sprint race needs to become a permanent fixture
The 2021 British GP rolled out a first: a race, with points, on a Saturday. And it was good
The majesty of one-lap heroics has been immortalised into Formula One’s history like no other; there’s a romanticism attached to, say, Senna’s qualifying lap at the 1988 Monaco Grand Prix, or Mansell at the British GP in ’92 (the fans!), or indeed Lewis Hamilton’s magic on the streets of Singapore back in 2018.
Last Saturday however, provided a different kind of spectacle, and one that was thoroughly exciting – Formula One’s first ever sprint race. And it’s a format that, at least in my opinion, needs to stay.
The standard qualifying format still remains, mind, so there’s plenty of space to eke out those one-lap moments of glory. Indeed, despite being on the back foot in the past five races, Hamilton pumped out the fastest lap on his first Q3 outing, enough to secure him the top spot for Saturday’s sprint.
(The sprint format is a simple one – as mentioned, Friday’s qualifying determines where you start on Saturday, when there's a short 100km sprint/race to determine where you’ll start on Sunday.)
Verstappen managed to jump Hamilton at the start and led the 'sprint' to finish first – thus qualifying on pole for Sunday’s race – with Hamilton finishing second just 1.4s behind. Bottas filled out the top three behind the two championship rivals.
Behind them however, one Fernando Alonso was proving that sprint racing can yield opportunities. The two-time world champion started Saturday's sprint race on softs – the fastest tyre – and in 11th place. By the end of the first lap, he had moved up to fifth. He took on Vettel, then Sainz, then Russell, then Ricciardo, then Perez and finally Norris, all within the space of that opening lap.
Sure, he was later passed by both Norris and Ricciardo, but it certainly made for exciting viewing. And it was only because of the sprint format that we got to see it. For 25 or so minutes – 17 laps of Silverstone, which is about a third of the race distance – we saw some actual wheel-to-wheel action, before the proper wheel-to-wheel action (quite literally, as you will have heard) on Sunday.
After Saturday's sprint race, Verstappen said: “That was good fun. I’m of course happy to score the three points and it’s quite funny to have a pole position from the race as well but we will take it.” Hamilton added: “I think it was great for F1 to try something new and even if the race wasn't particularly exciting after the first lap for myself, there are definitely learnings we can take from today.”
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc agreed. “I really enjoyed sprint qualifying today. Driving flat out for 17 laps is different to what we are used to and I had a lot of fun.” Both McLaren drivers said it was ‘good fun’, and Alonso agreed. “It was a good session for us today and I had a lot of fun.”
So, the drivers liked it, the fans certainly appreciated the additional action, and we reckon it should stay. What do you lot think? As ever, answers below...
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