Formula One has confirmed it will hold three “sprint qualifying” races this season. The concept of running a short race to decide the grid for grands prix rather than traditional qualifying has been under discussion for some time but was finally approved by a vote of the F1 commission on Monday and supported unanimously. The sprint races are expected to be staged before the British GP at Silverstone, the Italian GP at Monza and the Brazilian GP at Interlagos. These venues have yet to be confirmed, however.
The sprint qualifying races are being run as a test for the new format to see if it might be more widely adopted in future. They will be over 100km, with three points to the winner, two points to the runner-up and one to the driver in third place. There will be no compulsory pit stops, DRS will be used and the teams will be free to choose from two sets of tyres. Qualifying for the races will take place on a Friday afternoon in a one-hour session in the same format as is currently used on a Saturday.
“We are excited by this new opportunity that will bring our fans an even more engaging race weekend in 2021,” said F1’s CEO, Stefano Domenicali. “Seeing the drivers battling it out over three days will be an amazing experience.
“I am sure the drivers will relish the fight. I am delighted that all the teams supported this plan, and it is a testament to our united efforts to continue to engage our fans in new ways while ensuring we remain committed to the heritage and meritocracy of our sport.”
The format was also welcomed by the president of the FIA, Jean Todt. “I am pleased to see that Formula One is seeking new ways to engage with its fans and enlarge the spectacle of a race weekend through the concept of sprint qualifying,” he said.
There had been general agreement in principle at the idea of trialling sprint races but teams had concerns about the financial implications, technical details around how the races would fit into the race weekend and that they would not diminish the impact of the main event on a Sunday.
F1’s owner, Liberty Media, has been pushing for its adoption for some time, eager to investigate ways to provide a greater spectacle on Saturdays and reinvigorate the nature of a weekend meeting. Equally the new format may mix up the order of the teams on the grid, providing more intriguing racing in Sunday’s grand prix.
Nailing down the details has been a focus for F1 and the teams in recent weeks and they have now concluded a satisfactory agreement to cover the additional costs of racing and any potential damage incurred as well as tyre allocations and the usage of DRS during the race.
Both teams and F1 are insistent that they will not detract from the main event which will remain the grand prix on a Sunday. “We do not want to take away the prestige of the grand prix itself,” Domenicali has said. “That will remain the climax of the weekend.” There will be no podium ceremony and it will not count as a “grand prix” win.
The third meeting of the season will take place this weekend at Portimão, which will host the Portuguese GP, only the second time it has done so. The Autódromo Internacional do Algarve stepped up for the first time last season after the pandemic caused many meetings to be cancelled. This season the Australian and Chinese Grands Prix have been postponed.