Sprint Qualifying: Everything you need to know about F1’s new qualifying format

Sprint races, officially called sprint qualifying, will be held at three race weekends in the 2021 Formula One season after the FIA, Formula One and all ten teams on the grid came to an agreement. Out of the three venues, two of the sprint races will be held at European tracks, and one of them will be held at a non-European track. Sprint races are being introduced to make the race weekend more engaging for the fans as the drivers will be battling it out over all three days during the weekend.

What is a sprint race, and how will it fit into the race weekend?

A sprint race is essentially a shortened version of a typical race that will replace the standard qualifying session on Saturday. It will also ultimately set up the starting grid for Sunday’s Grand Prix.

Usually, the standard Q1, Q2, and Q3 qualifying session held on Saturday forms the starting grid for the Sundays Grand Prix, but in a race weekend where there is a sprint qualifying, the standard qualifying session will take place during Friday and help form the grid for the sprint race which will take place during Saturday.

Whereas a typical Grand Prix race distance is 300km plus one lap, a sprint race will only be 100km and will last around 30-40 mins. During the race pit stops are not mandatory, which will make the race a straight fight to the finish line.

The finishing result at the end of the sprint race will determine the starting grid for Sunday’s race. The sprint race winner will be credited as the polesitter for the weekend and not the driver who is fastest during Friday’s standard qualification.

Points will only be given to the top three finishers of the race, with the sprint race winner getting three championship points, 2nd place getting two and 3rd place getting one point. After the sprint race, there will be no podium ceremony, as that honour is still only for the top three of Sunday’s Grand Prix. However, the winner will be presented with a trophy on Parc Ferme, similarly to how the polesitter gets a tyre trophy from the current F1 tyre supplier, Pirelli.

One direct result of the sprint qualifying format is the reduction of practice time for teams during a race weekend. Instead of having the usual two practice sessions during Friday, teams will only have one 60-mins practice session on Friday before the qualifying session for the sprint race. Then, there will be another practice session before the sprint race on Saturday. Reducing one practice session from the race weekend will reduce the time teams have to perfect their race set-ups, which will hopefully encourage teams to do as much testing as  possible during practice sessions.

With the accommodation of a sprint qualifying during a race weekend, this is how the schedule will look like:

Friday

  • Free Practice 1 (60 minutes)
  • Qualifying (Standard Q1, Q2, Q3 format to set the grid for the sprint race)

Saturday

  • Free Practice 2 (60 minutes)
  • Sprint qualifying (100km race to form the grid for Sunday’s Grand Prix)

Sunday

  • Grand Prix (contested as normal)

How will Parc Ferme conditions be affected by the sprint race?

With the changes happening to the race weekend, Parc Ferme conditions will be changed accordingly also. Teams will only select from a set of 5 soft tyres for the revised qualifying session on Friday, which means that the top ten runners won’t have to start the race on the set of tyres they used to make it past through Q2.

The current Parc Ferme conditions are such that teams cant change major components to their cars so that they can’t run a car specially configured for qualifying and then change the car accordingly for the race. These rules will continue to be applied to the standard qualification before the sprint race.

All cars will go into Parc Ferme conditions after FP1, but teams will be allowed to reconfigure their cars before they enter FP2 on Saturday to allow teams to set their car up for the rest of the weekend, which includes the sprint race on Saturday and the main race on Sunday.

Teams will also be allowed to change back to a previous version of a front wing if they damage it during the sprint race, without incurring a penalty, something which wasn’t allowed before. Along with this, because of safety reasons, teams will be allowed to change brake friction materials, including brake ducts, for an identical set that was used by the team during qualifying or sprint race before the main race.

Teams are also allowed to make changes to the power unit and gearbox cooling configurations if there is an ambient temperature change between sessions.

A compressive list of what can be changed on the car is yet to be released.

When and where do the F1 sprint races take place?

A total of three circuits will host sprint qualifying test events in the 2021 season. While the complete list hasn’t been confirmed till now, the British Grand Prix at the Silverstone circuit, which will be held from 16th July to 18th July, will be the first host for the new sprint qualifying format.

The other two races rumoured to host sprint qualifying are the Italian Grand Prix at Monza(10th-12th September) and the Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos(5th-7th November), but because of the current Covid situation in Brazil, the race at Interlagos is in serious doubt.

An official announcement of the remaining test tracks is yet to be released.

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