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F1 Sprint Race Explained (In Simple Terms)

Sprint races are a relatively new concept in Formula 1, and the fanbase is split over whether it is good or bad for the sport. Sprint races in are here to stay in F1, and there may be more on the calendar in years ahead. But many new F1 fans may not understand how F1 sprint races work.

F1 Sprint changes the entire weekend format, with qualifying moving to Friday afternoon, which is used to determine the grid for the Sprint. F1 Sprint is a 100 km race that takes place on the Saturday afternoon. The results of the Sprint will determine the grid for the Grand Prix on Sunday.

Sprint race weekends are very different from a standard race weekend, and there are a lot of factors to consider during an F1 Sprint race weekend. The stakes are much higher and one small mistake could be costly for a driver. Below, we go through F1 sprint races in more detail.

How Does The F1 Sprint Work?

The Formula 1 Sprint race takes place on a Saturday afternoon during the qualifying time slot on a standard race weekend. The F1 Sprint grid is determined by knockout qualifying, which takes place on the Friday afternoon and follows the standard F1 qualifying procedure.

With the grid set, the F1 Sprint race proceeds just like a normal Grand Prix would in terms of the event itself. The cars will complete a formation lap before heading to the grid. On the grid the drivers will wait for the five red lights to go out, which signals the start of the race.

The F1 Sprint race is roughly 33% of a normal race distance, which means that it is much shorter than the main race that takes place on a Sunday, and it lasts approximately half an hour instead of the usual 1.5-2 hours that it takes to complete a Grand Prix.

The results of the F1 Sprint determine the grid for the Grand Prix on Sunday. There is no podium ceremony or trophies given to the top three drivers for the Sprint race, although there has been a wreath given to them in the past, and the Sprint winner gets a trophy.

How Long Are F1 Sprint Races?

F1 Sprint races are 100 km in length, and usually last around 30 minutes. They are much shorter than the main race that takes place on the Sunday. The F1 Sprint race distance is about 33% of the Grand Prix distance, which is 305 km/190 miles.

It takes the drivers around half an hour to complete this race, and the idea behind it is to have a shortened version of a Grand Prix where the drivers can push their cars as hard as possible without worrying about running out of fuel or wearing their tires down too much, hence the name ‘Sprint.’

The number of laps in the Sprint race differs from circuit to circuit, but the mileage will always be the same. This is because each circuit is unique and all tracks have different lengths, which means that more laps may be required to complete the required 100 kilometre race distance at some circuits than others.

The Motivation Behind Introducing F1 Sprint

F1 Sprint races had not been planned several years ago. It was a rather sudden implementation into a sport that is very much focused on tradition and tries not to stray too far away from the past. Introducing the Sprint races brought in a mixed feeling among fans – largely negative rather than positive.

The idea behind having a Sprint race was to increase the spectacle across the entire F1 race weekend. Formula 1 management believed that they had to target the younger audience with shorter, more fast paced and action-packed races.

Are There Pit Stops In F1 Sprint?

F1 drivers do not have to make a mandatory pit stop during the F1 Sprint races, unlike in the Grand Prix on Sunday afternoons. This removes the strategic element and allows the drivers to focus purely on racing and overtaking one another to gain positions for the main event on Sunday.

However, the pit lane remains open for any cars that may need to use it. Although pit stops are not mandatory during the Sprint race, there are some scenarios where drivers may need to head into the pits throughout the course of the race.

It’s not uncommon for wings or tires to be damaged, especially during the first couple of laps of the race. If a driver suffers a puncture or a broken front wing for example, they are allowed to head into the pits for repairs. Drivers are allowed to change their tires during the race too, but refuelling is not allowed during F1 Sprint races, just as it is banned in the normal race too.

Can F1 Sprint Happen In The Rain?

F1 Sprint races can happen in the rain. We often see Grands Prix or qualifying taking place in the rain, and the same goes for F1 Sprint. The drivers will switch to intermediate or wet tires when it starts to rain in order to have more grip available in the tricky conditions.

However, just like in the Grand Prix, if the rain becomes too heavy and the track conditions become too dangerous, the race will be red flagged, and the session will be suspended. The Sprint race won’t be over though, as cars will head back to their grid positions once the rain has eased and the track is deemed safe enough for racing.

Rain can always provide an extra bit of excitement during any Formula 1 session, and the Sprint race is no different. Rain could unravel a driver’s entire weekend, as a crash or a mistake could mean that they need to start the main race from the back of the grid.

How An F1 Sprint Weekend Works

F1 Sprint race weekends look slightly different to the standard race weekend that we’re used to. The Friday and Saturday sessions do change, but the Sunday remains the same. The Sunday afternoon is reserved for the Grand Prix, which is the main event and is run at full race distance as normal.

The Friday morning remains the same as a standard race weekend with the drivers taking part in the first free practice session of the race weekend. Instead of Free Practice 2 taking place on the Friday afternoon, the drivers battle it out in qualifying, which uses the same three-part format as a normal race weekend, and the results of qualifying determine where each driver starts for the Sprint.

On Saturday morning the drivers will have their second and final free practice session of the weekend. The results of the F1 Sprint race will set the grid for Sunday’s Grand Prix.

Here’s what a F1 Sprint race weekend looks like:

Friday

Morning – 60-minute Free Practice 1 session

Afternoon – Qualifying (Q1, Q2, and Q3) to determine the grid for F1 Sprint

Saturday

Morning – 60-minute Free Practice 2 session

Afternoon – F1 Sprint (100 kilometer race) to determine starting grid for the Grand Prix

Sunday

Afternoon – Full Grand Prix

When Was The First F1 Sprint Race?

The F1 Sprint format was introduced in 2021, and the first Sprint race took place at the 2021 British Grand Prix at Silverstone. Lewis Hamilton started first as he set the fastest lap during qualifying on the Friday afternoon, but Max Verstappen won the Sprint race.

As he won the F1 Sprint race on the Saturday afternoon, Verstappen was awarded with pole position (the title of which has since been confirmed to be reserved for the fastest driver in Friday qualifying instead) for the Grand Prix the following day. There were some mixed feelings among fans about the first F1 Sprint race, and it has been controversial ever since.

It was an eventful race, and it did change up the grid, which was the intention of the Sprint race format. Some drivers, such as Sergio Perez, had their weekends ruined by the Sprint race. Despite a good result in qualifying, the Mexican started the Grand Prix in last place following a spin during the Sprint race.

What F1 Sprint Races Were There In 2021?

There was a total of three Sprint races during the 2021 season, as Formula 1 decided to trial the concept. The idea was to slowly implement Sprint races in order to see how they work and whether teams, drivers, and fans found that it added something extra to the race weekend.

Formula 1 decided to try out the concept at three historic circuits that provide good overtaking opportunities for the drivers, which would get the most out of the Sprint format. The first Sprint race was at the British Grand Prix, which is a circuit with rich history and fast, flowing corners with lots of overtaking possibilities.

The second sprint race took place at Monza, the fastest circuit on the Formula 1 calendar. The final Sprint race was held at the Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos. All three of these Sprint races were fairly controversial, which could be argued to have worked both for and against the idea.

What Races Have Sprint Qualifying In 2022?

Three races have sprint qualifying in 2022: Imola, Austria and Interlagos. Initially, the FIA had planned to increase the number of Sprint races to a total of eight for the 2022 season, but teams protested this idea since the FIA also refused to increase the $140 million budget cap for the season.

The initial planning involved F1 Sprint race weekends to be held in Bahrain (the season opener), Canada, and the Netherlands, with another five venues to be added at a later stage. However, following the backlash from the Formula 1 teams, the FIA quickly moved back to three Sprint race venues for the 2022 season.

The first F1 Sprint race weekend for the 2022 season was decided to take place at Imola in Italy, a historic circuit. The second F1 Sprint race was to be held at the Red Bull Ring in Austria, and the final Sprint race of the season was to once again take place at Interlagos in Brazil.

How Do Points Work For F1 Sprint?

Formula 1 drivers do earn points for where they finish in the F1 Sprint races. However, the points system has been changed from the 2021 format, and now the rewards are much higher than before, and there are more points up for grabs, making the Sprint races even more important than they were in 2021.

In 2021, only the top three drivers would earn points in the Sprint races. Finishing in first and earning “pole position” would give the driver three points. Finishing in second place earned the driver two points and finishing in third place earned the driver one single point. The rest of the finishers did not earn any points.

However, the points system has been tweaked for the 2022 season, and drivers will now be earning more points for finishing higher up the ranks in a Sprint race. Points will also be awarded for the top eight finishers of the F1 Sprint race.

The new system means that a driver can earn up to 34 points during a Sprint race weekend, which has increased from the maximum of 29 points on offer in 2021. A driver can earn eight points for a Sprint race victory, 25 points for winning the Grand Prix, and an extra world championship point for setting the fastest lap.

Are There Points For F1 Sprint Races?

There are points for F1 sprint races. From 2022, the top 8 finishers in the F1 Sprint race will earn points. This system has been altered from 2021 where only the top three finishers would earn points during the Sprint race.

The driver who finishes first in the F1 Sprint starts the Grand Prix from pole position, and they will also be awarded with 8 world championship points. The driver in second place will earn 7 points, the driver that finishes in third will earn 6 points, and the points go all the way down to eighth place. With more points up for grabs, sprint races are even more important than they were in 2021.

Why Have Sprint Races Been Controversial In F1?

Although the F1 Sprint format was introduced to create a more action-packed race weekend, it has been the focus of huge debate among teams, drivers, and fans. However, the FIA and Formula 1 management have persisted, and the format continues to be included in Formula 1.

So much so that the FIA wanted the 2022 Formula 1 season to have eight Sprint race weekends, which is nearly one third of the Formula 1 season. It’s clear that they will be pushing to implement this format in a more permanent and expansive way in the future.

Pole Position

In 2021 there was some confusion surrounding the title of pole position. For many decades the driver that had the honor of starting in pole position was determined by the driver who was fastest in qualifying.

However, with the F1 Sprint race the driver was given pole position for finishing first in the Sprint race rather than setting the fastest lap in qualifying. This not only left people confused, but also somewhat annoyed that the driver who was fastest in qualifying might not even get pole position.

Even if a driver was to set the fastest lap in qualifying and start the Sprit race first, there is no guarantee they would finish first in the Sprint race to earn the title of pole sitter. Crashes and mechanical failures are entirely possible and could cost the driver their pole position.

But this has been rectified and the driver who sets the fastest time in qualifying will be given the accolade of pole position no matter where they finish in the Sprint race. This isimportant in F1, as the number of pole positions a driver has is a key metric many use to measure their success.

The driver who finishes first in the Sprint race will simply be the Sprint race winner. It’s a small detail, but it’s an important one.

Higher Stakes

Many fans, teams, and drivers were unhappy about the fact that there was so much risk involved with the Sprint qualifying format. Even if a driver was incredibly fast, their entire race weekend could be ruined on a Saturday afternoon.

If a driver sets the fastest time in qualifying and starts in first place for the Sprint race, it is clear that they should have the advantage of being in pole position for the main race. However, with the Sprint format, it is entirely possible for this driver to end up much further down the starting grid on Sunday.

Drivers would need to risk their starting positions in order to overtake other cars during the sprint race. Crashes and spins could send the driver straight to the back of the grid. Even something that is entirely out of the driver’s control, such as a mechanical failure, would send the driver to the back of the starting grid for the Grand Prix.

Parc Fermé Rules

Parc Fermé rules are very important in Formula 1. Teams are not allowed to make any major changes to their cars between qualifying and the Grand Prix on Sunday. This means that they can’t alter or fine-tune their setup for example.

This rule has worked well since 2003, forcing teams to use the same setup between qualifying and the race, and making them think more strategically rather than simply setting up their car specifically for qualifying and then again for the race. Instead, teams would have to find the right balance to be fast in both of these sessions.

However, with the Sprint race weekend, this rule remains the same. The only difference is that qualifying takes place on the Friday afternoon, after which Parc Fermé rules come into place. This makes the second free practice session on the Saturday morning almost redundant.

Teams often use free practice sessions to fine-tune their setups and make significant changes to their cars in order to extract more lap time out of them. With Parc Fermé rules in place though, they are not able to make any changes to their cars, meaning the drivers can gather very little useful data, as they can’t use it to make changes to the setup as they normally would.

Higher Costs

The main concern that teams have with the Sprint race format is that there are more expenses involved. Rather than an extra free practice session, the teams will now have to take part in a race where there is a higher risk of things going wrong.

Normally this would not be a problem for teams, but with the $140 million budget cap in place, teams are now worried about exceeding the budget cap and having to face penalties later down the line if things go wrong in the additional 100 km of race speeds they must run.

If two cars make contact with one another during a Sprint race or if some components on the cars fail, then the team will need to repair their cars. The repair costs come out of the budget cap, and so there are obviously major concerns for the sustainability aspect.

Final Thoughts        

F1 Sprint was first implemented in 2021 and it changes the race weekend format. The drivers take part in normal qualifying on Friday to set the grid for a 100-kilometer Sprint race taking place on Saturday. The Sprint race determines the starting grid for the Grand Prix on Sunday.