Sprint races are a relatively new concept in Formula 1, and the fanbase is still 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 sets the grid for Sunday’s race), and a Sprint Shootout session on Saturday (which sets the grid for the Sprint race). F1 Sprint is a 100 km race that takes place on the Saturday afternoon.
Sprint race weekends are very different from a standard race weekend. The stakes are much higher and one small mistake could be costly for a driver. Below, I go through F1 sprint races in more detail, explaining how it works, when they happen, and how the Sprint Shootout works.
How Does The F1 Sprint Work?
The Formula 1 Sprint race takes place on a Saturday afternoon, with its grid set by the Sprint Shootout. The Sprint Shootout is essentially a shorter version of normal knockout qualifying, but with some extra tire restrictions. The Sprint Shootout was introduced in 2023, as the Sprint race grid used to be set by normal qualifying.
The Sprint race also used to set the grid for Sunday’s race, but the introduction of the Sprint Shootout means that the qualifying session on Friday now sets Sunday’s race grid.
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.
How Long Are F1 Sprint Races?
F1 Sprint races are around 100 km in length (about 62 miles), 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 normally 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 (almost) 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.
There is no traditional podium ceremony after the Sprint, but drivers may be given small trophies or plaques if they finish in the top 3. The Sprint race is now effectively treated as a separate event to the main race, as they are no longer linked like they were in 2021 and 2022.
The Motivation Behind Introducing F1 Sprint
F1 Sprint races were a rather sudden implementation into a sport that is very much focused on tradition and tries not to stray too far away from its roots. Introducing the Sprint races brought in a mixed feeling among fans – largely negative rather than positive. I’ll talk more about that towards the end of the article.
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. It was an alternative approach to using reverse grid races in F1.
F1 Sprint Weekend Format Explained
F1 Sprint race weekends look very 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.
Here’s what a F1 Sprint race weekend format looks like:
Morning – 60-minute Free Practice 1 session
Afternoon – Qualifying (Q1, Q2 and Q3) to determine the grid for Sunday’s race
Morning – Sprint Shootout (SQ1, SQ2 and SQ3) to determine the grid for the Sprint race
Afternoon – F1 Sprint (100 kilometer race)
Afternoon – Full Grand Prix
Note that some sessions may not take place in the morning or afternoon as specified above, such as if it is a night race. However, the outline above explains the format for most race weekends. There is only one practice session (FP1) on a Sprint weekend.
How The Sprint Shootout Works In Formula 1
The Sprint Shootout was a new edition for the 2023 F1 season. It sets the grid for the Sprint race, while Friday qualifying now sets the grid for Sunday’s race. This means Saturdays on Sprint weekends are all about the Sprint, with neither session affecting Sunday’s grid (unless there are grid penalties to give out – more on that later).
The Sprint Shootout follows a very similar format to normal knockout qualifying, but it’s shorter. There are three sessions, known as Sprint Qualifying (SQ) sessions. The rules around these are as follows:
- SQ1 – 12 minutes, new medium tires only
- SQ2 – 10 minutes, new medium tires only
- SQ3 – 8 minutes, soft tires only (new or used)
This session is shorter than normal qualifying in an attempt to ease teams’ concerns about reliability. However, in reality it’s not that much shorter, so it will be interesting to see how this affects reliability and part usage in the long run (remember, F1 teams can only use 3 engines per season or they’ll get engine penalties).
It’s also designed to limit drivers to one or two flying laps per session, to really put the pressure on and force drivers to be absolutely on it with every lap. It’s all about the competitive and entertainment value with the Sprint Shootout, but as I’ll discuss later, not everyone agrees that it’s the right thing for the sport.
Changes To The F1 Sprint Race Format
|F1 Sprint introduced at 3 events
Friday qualifying sets grid for the Sprint
Only 2 free practice sessions
Points for the top 3 finishers in the Sprint
Results set grid for Sunday’s race
Sprint winner is said to have pole position
|Still 3 Sprint events, but at different tracks
Now points for top 8 finishers in the Sprint
Pole position goes to fastest driver in Friday qualifying
|Sprint races at 6 events
Points for top 8 finishers
Sprint grid set by Sprint Shootout
Friday qualifying sets Sunday’s grid
Only 1 free practice session
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 when they were first introduced.
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 was tweaked for the 2022 season, and now there are points available for the top 8 positions. F1 Sprint points are given out as follows:
- 1st – 8 points
- 2nd – 7 points
- 3rd – 6 points
- 4th – 5 points
- 5th – 4 points
- 6th – 3 points
- 7th – 2 points
- 8th – 1 point
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.
Note: As with normal qualifying, drivers don’t get points for the Sprint Shootout
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 try and earn up to 8 points.
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. That’s because there are still grid penalties to consider.
How Grid Penalties Work On F1 Sprint Weekends
Grid penalties in F1 are applied when drivers break the rules in some way, either by breaking the sporting regulations (e.g. causing a collision with another driver) or the technical regulations (e.g. by using too many restricted parts). Normally they only affect drivers on race day, but the Sprint format changes how grid penalties are applied.
Here is a summary of how grid penalties work on Sprint weekends:
- Any grid penalties incurred before the Sprint Shootout (i.e. during practice, qualifying, or the previous race weekend) are applied to Sunday’s race
- Penalties incurred during the Sprint Shootout are applied to the Sprint race
- Grid penalties incurred during the Sprint race apply to Sunday’s race
- Any breach of Parc Fermé rules results in pit lane starts for both the Sprint and Sunday’s race
- Any power unit breaches (engine penalties) will apply to Sunday’s race unless they are also Parc Fermé breaches
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 is now 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 mix 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 were a total of 3 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 Tracks Have Sprint Races In 2023?
The following 6 tracks have Sprint races in 2023:
- Baku City Circuit (Azerbaijan)
- Red Bull Ring (Austria)
- Circuit de Spa Francorchamps (Belgium)
- Losail Circuit (Qatar)
- Circuit of the Americas (USA)
- Interlagos (Brazil)
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 was nearly a third of the Formula 1 season’s events. It’s clear that they will be pushing to implement this format in a more permanent and expansive way in the future.
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 is important 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 is now simply the Sprint race winner. It’s a small detail, but it’s an important one in the world of motorsport!
Many fans, teams, and drivers are unhappy about the fact that there is so much risk involved with the Sprint format. Even if a driver is incredibly fast, their entire race weekend could be ruined on a Saturday afternoon.
When the Sprint format was first introduced, and drivers’ starting positions for Sunday’s race were determined by the results of the Sprint, there was the potential for a driver to have an issue or crash during the Sprint that would essentially ruin their race on Sunday.
Drivers would need to risk their (Sunday) 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.
However, now that the Sprint is essentially separate from the Grand Prix, this is largely no longer a concern. But drivers can still suffer damage that may result in grid penalties for the race (as discussed above). Plus, there is also just the issue of long-term reliability, and how the Sprint weekends affect teams in this regard.
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 have to find the right balance to be fast in both of these sessions.
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 made the second free practice session on the Saturday morning almost redundant, and it has now been replaced with the Sprint Shootout.
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 couldn’t gather much useful data, as they can’t use it to make changes to the setup as they normally would.
The main concern that teams have with the Sprint race format is that there are more expenses involved. Rather than two free practice sessions, the teams will now have to take part in an extra qualifying session and an extra race, which are far riskier in terms of reliability and damage than practice sessions.
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 (along with extra qualifying laps).
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.
Aside from that, teams also must just exert more energy on a Sprint weekend during a race calendar that is now consistently above 20 races per year. This puts extra pressure on the teams, staff, and drivers, and many worry about the implications of this over the long-term.
F1 Sprint was first implemented in 2021, and it changes the standard race weekend format substantially. The drivers take part in normal qualifying on Friday to set the grid for Sunday’s race, and then there is the Sprint Shootout on Saturday that sets the grid for a 100-kilometer Sprint race taking place later that day.
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