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F1 drivers suggest changes to sprint qualifying format


Formula One drivers have suggested ways in which the sprint qualifying format could be changed, following an underwhelming edition of the trial race type at last weekend’s Italian Grand Prix.

This season saw the debut of the new event, which has so far taken place at the British and Italian GPs and is set to feature again in Brazil in November.

At Silverstone and Monza, a Saturday sprint race replaced the traditional qualifying set-up, as will be the case at the Brazilian GP.

While the inaugural sprint in July earned relatively positive feedback, last weekend’s edition was a rather dull affair, with drivers remaining in single file for the majority of the 18 laps and Valtteri Bottas finishing the race where he started it: out in front.

F1 motorsport director Ross Brawn recently suggested that staging sprint races in place of grands prix, instead of before the main events, could encourage a less conservative approach from competitors.

Of that suggestion, McLaren driver Lando Norris is reported by Race Fans as having said: “If you would have it separate to the actual Sunday race and take away that fear of crashing, allow yourself to do those risks maybe a little bit more and not actually affect Sunday, [it could] at least shake things up a little bit more.”

The 21-year-old Briton, who achieved his best ever GP finish in F1 by coming second on Sunday, added: “Considering we’re in Monza and it’s a bit more of a race track, I don’t think it was the most exciting race for the fans – and I think [excitement is] the whole point of why we’re doing it.”

Meanwhile, Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc said: “It’s always a difficult choice. It wasn’t a very exciting race, but I still feel like there’s been a bit of action in the first few corners.

“But let’s say that everyone is in the right pecking order like this,” the Monegasque added, per Race Fans, “the fastest cars are in the front, the slowest cars in the back. So it’s very difficult to make up some positions if we have a sprint race that is very different.

Valtteri Bottas won the second ever F1 sprint race ahead of this month’s Italian GP

(POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

“What I mean by very different is why not the reverse grid of the championship? Then we might see quite a bit more action. In a race like this, obviously, it was quite difficult to follow in front.”

Williams driver George Russell, who is set to replace Bottas at Mercedes next season, said: “My feeling is the sprint is too short and the cars are pretty much driving flat-out every single lap, and it doesn’t offer enough opportunity between the cars to be able to overtake.

“Normally when you see overtaking it’s because of a tyre delta. If everybody goes out there, Mercedes and Red Bull are within a few tenths [of a second], then McLaren and the next cars are within a few tenths and so on and so on. You only get that overtaking opportunity with the tyre delta and a 100-kilometre race didn’t give you that opportunity.

“Maybe we need to use softer tyres or make it mandatory to just be on the soft tyre there. I’m glad they’re trying things, but I think – for me – you’ll pretty much finish where you ended lap one.

“There’s a few other factors as well,” added the 23-year-old Briton. “The schedule’s always a bit later in the afternoon, the track temperature’s cooler, which makes it easier on the tyre as well. If we were slap-bang in the middle of the day, track temperature’s 10 degrees hotter, then there probably would be some tyre management involved.

“But these last two races now we were flat-out every single lap, and only in the last one or two laps do you feel a bit of limitation on the tyre, but that’s not enough to make anything too exciting.”

A re-evaluation of the sprint format is expected at the end of the 2021 season.

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