Mercedes driver George Russell sees shortcomings in Formula 1’s sprint format after an Imola sprint that “felt processional” – but F1 sporting director Ross Brawn believes Russell’s comments should be taken with a pinch of salt due to his team’s struggles.
The Saturday sprint race at the 2022 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix was the fourth in F1 history and the first with the new generation of F1 cars, and featured two lead changes – with Max Verstappen losing the lead to Charles Leclerc off the line and then re-passing him on the penultimate lap.
There was also a substantial amount of overtakes further down the grid, albeit this was partly enabled by a wet qualifying producing something of a mixed-up starting order.
Russell, for his part, did pull off a single overtake on the out-of-position Aston Martin of Sebastian Vettel, but only after spending the majority of the 21-lap distance in an effective DRS train led by the Aston.
“I don’t know what the rest of the race was like but it felt processional from where we were,” he told Sky.
Russell – a director of the Grand Prix Drivers Association – did acknowledge that he wasn’t helped by a lack of straightline performance – and the fact that there was just the one conventional overtaking spot, Tamburello, for F1 at Imola.
But he also said of the current sprint format: “I’m not a major fan of it, in all honestly, it needs to probably be 50 percent longer or just that little bit longer to see the tyres degrading, where drivers maybe need to manage the tyres a bit more, and then you can see a bit more of a difference between cars.
“But at the moment everyone’s just going flat out, and there’s not a big enough laptime difference to see those overtakes – unless you qualify out of position, like you saw with some cars.”
Most drivers quizzed about the sprint acknowledged that the 2022 version was better, aided by the new cars allowing for closer battles – although reigning champion Max Verstappen did make it clear that his duel with Leclerc did little to banish his doubts about the format.
Brawn, for his part, said he was “very pleased” with how the Imola sprint played out, describing it as a “great success” aided by the “fortunate” compound allocation.
“The tyres were perfect for the sprint race because they started to degrade, and of course, in a normal race you would’ve had the driver come into the pits, change the tyres, it would all come down to strategy, but we had one shot at the race and the drivers had to make the tyres last.”
Asked about Russell’s opinion to the contrary, Brawn said: “Whenever my driver’s had a bad car, he’s complained about the race! So I think George’s opinion or the opinion of anyone at the back of the grid is not the opinion that we really listen to.
“The opinions we listen to are the guys who are really competitive, they’re racing in the middle, racing at the front.
“They [Mercedes] are in a very unfortunate position, but I don’t think their position at the back of the grid is really one that reflects the true position of racing at the moment.”
Prodded on that further, he slightly – but not fully – walked back his sentiment: “I just know from my own experience, psychologically, a driver at the back of the grid has got all sorts of other things going on. It would be great if there was things going on at the back – but, we had the Mercedes that couldn’t overtake the cars in front, but there was plenty of overtaking going on in the middle and at the front.
“Of course we will listen [to all drivers], we won’t ignore it, but I think you have to keep the perspective on it.”