Silverstone: As fans return to Silverstone for the British Grand Prix, Formula 1 will greet them with a lively format that adds “the Sprint”, in fact an extra race, tomorrow.
With Britain’s coronavirus restrictions easing, Silverstone can accommodate a crowd of 140,000 over three days.
The changes in the first two days are an effort to provide this crowd and viewers with more action. It is an experience that will be repeated, at most, in two other races this season.
F1 sporting director Ross Brawn told the F1 website he was hoping for a “much more complete weekend with three days of intense competition”.
Not everyone is convinced.
Seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton predicted the sprint would be “a train”.
“The race remains Sunday,” said Jean Todt, president of the FIA, the governing body of motorsport.
The Saturday event, which organizers call either “Sprint Qualifying” or “F1 Sprint”, is the eye-catching innovation, but its introduction has a ripple effect that will be noticeable from the start of the weekend.
Today will open as usual with a practice, but it has been moved to the afternoon.
This is followed by “qualifying,” which was passed from Saturday afternoon to early Friday evening to give “the first day of track action a little gravity and a crescendo event,” the F1 website said.
The late start is designed to make it easier for working viewers to watch.
F1 is looking for “better media coverage with Fridays finally coming to life,” Brawn said.
Instead of deciding on the main race grid, qualifying will settle the starting order of a mini-race on Saturday afternoon.
The Sprint will last 25-30 minutes and run for 100 km, which at Silverstone means 17 laps. That compares to 52 laps and just over 306km for the race itself on Sunday.
F1 describes it as “a short and fast racing spectacle – similar to a Twenty20 cricket match – with drivers racing hard from start to finish without needing to pit.”
In addition to determining Sunday’s grid positions, the sprint offers a small number of championship points: three for the first, two for the second and one for the third.
Although there will be “a special post-Sprint presentation for the top three,” Formula 1 has stressed that it will not include a podium or national anthems.
“The thing to remember about sprint qualifying is that his intention is to extend all weekend,” Brawn said. “It is not expected to have an impact on the racing event. The Grand Prix remains the unmissable event of the weekend. “
“Sunday’s Grand Prix is fantastic, and we don’t want to cannibalize that, but we want to increase the engagement on Friday and Saturday.”
Not everyone is convinced that the Sprint will deliver “100 kilometers of action”.
“It will probably be a train,” Hamilton said. “Hopefully there will be some overtaking, but it probably won’t be too exciting.”
Not a fan
Todt said he was “not a big fan” and didn’t want to call the Sprint a race.
“I don’t think Formula 1 needs it,” he said. “On the other hand, if people want to try something, it’s not going to hurt Sunday’s race.
“It costs nothing to try.”
The format is yet another experiment, which F1 intends to repeat at Monza in September and in another race. Brazil has been affected, but F1 recognizes that the coronavirus pandemic could end this race.
“If that doesn’t work, we’ll raise our hand and think again,” Brawn said.