F1’s competitive 2021 season shows it doesn’t need sprint qualifying – Wolff

2021 F1 season

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Formula 1’s second sprint qualifying race yesterday failed to convince Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff the new format belongs in the sport.

The series is considering potential changes to the format for next season. But Wolff, whose team won yesterday’s sprint qualifying race, described the proposals as ‘confused’ and argued for F1 to drop it.

Wolff said it was little surprise yesterday’s event failed to produce an exciting race and that shifting between formats from weekend to weekend generated confusion.

“First of all, everybody’s confused,” he said. “I don’t know how it is with you, I don’t even know what session is when.

“I believe that the sprint race format, as it stands at the moment, doesn’t give a lot of benefit because nobody will take a serious risk. There’s too little points at stake and the risk of compromising your Sunday grand prix with points all the way to tenth position is just not worth the risk.

“So what we’ve seen today is a combination of general difficulties in overtaking because the straight-line speeds are very similar. But also because even at turn one and two, nobody takes a risk.”

F1’s third and final running of the format is due to take place at the Brazilian Grand Prix in November.

“Let’s give it another try in Brazil, let’s see if there is anything that changes,” said Wolff. “But that was a worthwhile experiment and for me – and, this is just a personal opinion or the opinion of my engineers here – it’s not fish, not meat.”

The sprint qualifying trial was agreed following a 2020 season which was largely dominated by Mercedes. However Wolff says the closer championship fight F1 is enjoying this year shows fundamental changes to the race weekend format are not needed.

“We’ve resisted in the past experiments because they were just too controversial and mainly, also, against what the sport stands for, and that’s real racing.

“We have great personalities now and it’s broadcasted in the right way. And people know that it’s a meritocracy, best man and best machine wins. And you can see this year there is just more cars that are really competitive and a really good fight at the top.

“So whatever conclusion we take altogether – the teams, the FIA and FOM in F1 commission – whether we discontinue or we continue, I think we need to do it with a fine-toothed comb.”

F1 needs to be prepared to drop the format if it cannot be improved, said Wolff. “We have too much responsibility for our sport to just freestyle with regulatory changes.

“If Brazil proves to be an exciting race, maybe there will be appetite to continue. But some of the suggestions that have come up is just confused.”

F1’s motorsport director Ross Brawn has suggested improving the format by severing the connection between the Saturday race and Sunday starting position, awarding more points and reversing the grid to encourage drivers to take more risks. Wolff, who vehemently opposed past attempts to introduce reverse grids, said he “remains in the same position” on that change.

“It’s diluting the DNA of the sport of a meritocracy. I think sprint races is worth the try, I’m not sure we will keep them. But the reverse grid can be done in junior formulas where you want to see the overtaking abilities of drivers and it’s not something we should even come close to in Formula 1.”

He believes F1 should essentially retain its current format, but further reduce the amount of practice teams do on Friday, and potentially reinstate the Sunday morning pre-race warm-up which was last seen in 2002.

“Start Friday afternoon with FP1, do a Saturday morning FP2, do a conventional qualifying like we do on a fantastic grand prix on Sunday,” said Wolff. “And maybe you want to do some warm-up Sunday morning, I don’t know, maybe that can add a little bit more respect for the people.

“But in any case, I would just shorten the free practice session so there is more variability in the results to keep the rest like it is.”

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Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...
Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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  • 13 comments on “F1’s competitive 2021 season shows it doesn’t need sprint qualifying – Wolff”

    1. It might not have been the most interesting race but I still like the idea of sprint races. 2022 the cars are very different again at what happens this year isn’t necessarily indicative of sprint races with the new cars.

      Even if the status quo did remain, its refreshing to have a different format to the weekend. Fridays are more interesting which for me creates more hype about the weekends as a whole.

      If nothing else, it forces teams to be more dynamic and think outside the box – McLaren certainly made the most of the opportunity for example. I do think a few more points could be awarded (6, 4, 3, 2, 1?) but I’m definitely pro sprints, regardless of the racing.

      1. How are the 2022 cars different? The same PUs, same engines, nearly the same size of the car, we even go up with the weight. There might be some minor tweaks to the design and concept, but the fundamental characteristics of racing will stay the same and sprints have no chance with these cars.

    2. The Sprint Race should be part of the Race. It would be akin to a red flag scenario: Have the grid race their heart out without pitstops for the first 30 minutes. Break. Have a 60 minute race with a standing start and pit stops after. All on the same day. This way the design of the fuel tank can be smaller, making the car lighter in the process.

      With the Sprint Race and Pitstop Race on Sunday, Saturday Qualifying retains its proven format of fastest lap.

    3. “Hype” sums these sprints up. All anticipation and no delivery.
      F1 ain’t broken so why add this gimmick.
      Yes to new spec cars in 2022 to try, yet again, to improve overtaking. The regular changes I’ve seen since the 80’s have always had that same intention but rarely delivered. Maybe next year will produce the desired outcome..

      1. I’d say ‘hype’ sums up F1 in general. It promises so much, but rarely delivers it.

        I’d say it is broken, or else these suggestions and ideas would never need to be entertained – or even thought of – in the first place.

        Exactly – they keep saying the next set of cars will solve their problems when in fact they consistently make them worse in pursuit of the low hanging fruit of media headlines (fastest cars ever, lap records here there and everywhere, thermal efficiency, etc etc) without ever focusing on making a fundamentally better racing series.
        Yes, that includes next year’s cars too.
        Which is why this is being talked about, yet again.

    4. I’m all for trying new things and I was in favour of the sprint races. But it seems to just be a bit of a non-event.

      There is too much risk and not enough reward, so drivers don’t try anything exciting.

    5. Ok, so I watched the “sprint race” for the first time yesterday and I agree with every driver and team principal who werre vocal against it – it’s pointless. The biggest issue for me is that the current formula is fundamentally an endurance machine and we can see some performance jumps and drops over the long run thanks to different strategies, an aspect which is completely absent from the short runs. This format won’t work until some radical change to the concept of the car (something like mid 2000’s light and agile cars with high performance convergence), which won’t take place for another decade. The fact that we have practically three race weekends in a season with different sets of rules is also dilluting the legitimacy of the title fight and yesterday, for example, stripped Hamilton of deserved pole. In conclusion, the brain says no, but unfortunately, the Liberty and Brawn will make everything to fill their pockets.

      1. The fact that we have practically three race weekends in a season with different sets of rules is also dilluting the legitimacy of the title fight and yesterday, for example, stripped Hamilton of deserved pole.

        Ok, I was going with you up until this point.

        Everyone in F1 is facing the same rules at the same time. There is no new legitimacy issue there. The driver and team with the most points at the end of the season gets their respective championship, regardless of this particular event being slightly different than another.

        As for Hamilton – he made a mistake and it cost him. Others simply did better than he did, and it had nothing to do with it the rules of the event or the nature of the session.

      2. The only deserved pole lost was by bottas.

    6. Sprint races are boring over hyped and unnecessary. The current qualifying is best for now. Either they introduce special tyres for the sprint race that degrade super quick or have slow down and speed up sections of the race to artificially make it more exciting. So that we can have multiple restarts. Otherwis its just a 20lap procession

    7. I just hope Liberty will be true to it’s word.

      Everyone agreed to give it a try on the basis that it would be discontinued if it proved to be a dog.

      It has – now let’s get rid of it and move on. This is not a case of “well maybe it might be better if we change a few things or reverse the grid” Ross – it’s a mess and needs to be discarded. Period. Like you said you would.

    8. Really strange from Toto. Don’t know whats wrong with him this year, but apparently this is the kind of guy that can only shine when things go well. If Verstappen would start 4th and Lewis 1st he would have held a long story on how good this Sprint race phenomenon is. Both him and Horner consistently behave as a bunch of children. I must say it takes a lot of the shine away from the F1 circus. Seeing that people leading teams are not exactly the sharpest tools in the shed is quite disappointing I must say.

      1. Agreed, both can do a lot better.
        But toto is breaking up badly under the pressure. It’s the first season without niki under pressure and he seems not up to it.

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