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Interest and intrigue or tedious and trivial? The debate around the F1 Sprint Race continues

Sprint Races were introduced into F1 to try to excite fans and increase engagement over the race weekend. However, since their launch in 2021, they have sparked much debate.

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The shortened race, lasting only 100km, was designed as a fast-paced spectacle. The idea was for drivers to race all out to increase the fan interest over the weekend. The Guardian reported that the latest figures have shown Sprint weekends to be successful in increasing engagement. Furthermore, they allow F1 to sell the extra days and races to fans.

Despite this, there are still calls from fans, teams and the media to scrap the Sprint Races, but they have been adapted over the last few years and it looks like they are here to stay.

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Early years

Weekend schedule: FP1, Qualifying, FP2, Sprint Race, Race

During the first two seasons, the Sprint Race set the grid for the feature race on Sundays and qualifying would set the order for the Sprint. This was a major issue because a crash in the Sprint could therefore hugely affect a teams’ opportunity to score points over the weekend. This meant that drivers were much more tentative and the spectacle that was meant to be created never materialised.

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Also, in the first season, only the top three finishers in the Sprint Race received points so there was even more jeopardy on being aggressive with less payoff. This was rectified the following year. The top eight drivers now receive points, which has increased the incentive to race hard and make overtakes.

This season

Weekend schedule: FP1, Qualifying, Sprint Shootout, Sprint Race, Race

In an effort to try to improve the spectacle, F1 changed the format of the Sprint Race this year. Rather than letting it affect the starting grid for Sundays, the Sprint is now a separate event. This even includes separate qualifying on Saturday mornings – the Sprint Shootout.

This reduces the risk of drivers and teams going pointless. Formerly, one mistake in the Sprint could compromise a driver’s whole weekend. Therefore this change has allowed the races to be more aggressive and for fans to see more overtaking.

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This change also means Saturday mornings are more compelling. Before, FP2 was under Parc Fermé so minimal changes were allowed to be made to the car during this session, meaning it was effectively needless. The inclusion of the Sprint Shootout means that more of the weekend contributes towards the championship.

One big criticism of the new format is that Saturdays are now isolated for the Sprints and effectively run independently from the rest of the weekend. They can almost feel like a separate event.

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However, as shown by the continual changes F1 have been willing to make, Sprint Races will continue to adapt to make them more exciting and engaging for the fans.

The future

So far, of the 12 Sprint Races over the three seasons, a few have stood out: most notably Brazil 2021. During this race Lewis Hamilton, who was chasing Max Verstappen in the championship, came from the back of the grid to P5, having been disqualified during qualification. He made the Sprint look supremely easy. His performance was the main reason that it was entertaining, as he was able to attack drivers all throughout the race and in different corners and straights. He started Sunday’s race in P10 and won the Grand Prix, closing the deficit to Verstappen.

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The other Sprint Races that seem to rouse fans have generally had changeable conditions, as seen in Austria 2023. This minimises the differences in pace between teams and often allows for more overtakes and battles, especially if there is an unusual grid order.

One of the main suggestions, and my favourite, for improving Sprint Races is to have reverse grids. This performance by Hamilton suggests it would be very interesting.

Reverse grids would involve no Sprint Shootout and instead the grid for the Sprint would be in reverse championship order. This would mean that whoever was last in the Drivers’ Championship would start in P1 and the current leader (most likely Max Verstappen) would start at the back of the grid. This would be a great way to not only see more overtakes during the Sprint, but also to allow back-marker teams to fight for crucial points on more weekends.

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Reverting the schedule of the weekend would also allow another practice session so teams could fine tune their cars to get better performance, but the weekend would not be too practice heavy.

Other suggestions include: a separate championship for the Sprint Races, further isolating the Saturday from the rest of the weekend; one-shot qualifying for the Sprint Shootout, meaning a mixed up grid is more likely as mistakes would cost teams significantly; and the inclusion of a rookie in one of the cars at each Sprint Race for all teams, a great way to blood young, new drivers and to interest many fans too. A combination of these suggestions could also be very interesting.

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F1 have demonstrated their flexibility thus far and appear poised to keep implementing alterations. This bodes well as they are not resting on their laurels with the Sprint format. Continuous experimenting with new concepts is the only way to enhance the race weekend, and F1 are doing just that.


  • Toby Reynolds

    Toby is the cricket editor at the Sports Gazette. For the last three years, he has been a radio host and podcaster at URN. He also enjoys F1, rugby and football. Having written his dissertation on rugby union salary caps, Toby loves to explore tactical trends and use statistics to back up his arguments, as well as trying to disprove the saying that “stats are for prats”.