F1's 'sprint qualifying' Saturday race plan impasse explained - The Race
Formula 1

F1’s ‘sprint qualifying’ Saturday race plan impasse explained

Mar 27 2021
By Scott Mitchell

Formula 1 chiefs and representatives from all 10 teams met on Saturday ahead of qualifying to try to resolve the financial impasse over F1’s sprint qualifying proposal.

F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali, F1 managing director of motorsport Ross Brawn – plus FIA president Jean Todt – attended the scheduled meeting, with financial implications of the proposal known to be the main sticking point for F1’s biggest teams.

The plan is for three events this year to have a ‘sprint qualifying’ race. Traditional-style qualifying would be moved to Friday and set the grid for the sprint race on Saturday, which would award points to the leading finishers and set the grid for Sunday’s grand prix.

It was said to have broad support from all teams but further details needed to be discussed.

The main hurdle is that F1’s proposal creates extra financial pressures when the bigger teams are already making huge efforts to meet the first-ever cost cap ($145m) that has been implemented for this season.

The meeting on Saturday was not solely about the sprint qualifying proposal. It was said to include a positive discussion on it but further talks will take place over the coming days.

“We are really struggling to just come in below the budget cap and we’re talking about tens of thousands of pounds and not hundreds of thousands,” said Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff on Friday.

“Therefore we would really like to support Stefano and Ross with the idea because – as discussed before – I think it’s worth trying.

“But we simply haven’t got the margin to go for it and then find out that there is an extra half million pounds or more that we have to find within that budget cap, because that could mean looking at people again and that’s not where I want to go anymore, at all.”

Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari had to find ways to reallocate staff to avoid mass redundancies.

Toto Wolff Christian Horner

Red Bull team boss Christian Horner said he has a “mixed opinion”, as supporting F1’s desire to at least try the format is appealing but there are fundamental concerns attached – chiefly the impact on costs.

He said that it might not even work as a spectacle and “could just be a static Saturday race that creates a static Sunday race – but it’s another start, there’s more jeopardy, etc”.

“I think we have to give it a go,” said Horner.

“We’re interested to look at it but what we can’t ignore is that to run and operate these cars is extremely expensive. and we need to find a solution how to combat that, in particular in a season where the budget cap is having a significant impact on how we operate.”

Horner said that the proposals from F1 to cover the financial cost of the additional event “doesn’t match cash out at the moment”.

He said that meant teams were being asked to take on a bigger cost and make “an investment” into F1, trusting the trial to work in the hope it generates future revenue.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Bahrain Grand Prix Qualifying Day Sakhir, Bahrain

Horner’s example was that on a “crude basis” of dividing the number events by the budget cap, the cost of operating as a team was clear. Based on the current financial regulations that would be just over $6m per event.

“Adding in a shortened race is just more cost that we’re naturally going to incur, the usage of parts, etc, so there just has to be a sensible allowance that takes that into account,” he said.

“We’re chasing £10,000, £20,000, £30,000 savings at the moment to ensure that we’re hitting the cap and to suddenly have a variable like this is something that just needs to be accommodated.

“We’re keen to support it but there needs to be an accommodation.”

McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown said he did not see “much downside in trying a few times and potentially there’s a lot of upside if it’s very exciting”.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Bahrain Grand Prix Qualifying Day Sakhir, Bahrain

He admitted that sprint qualifying would cost more money – “and can cost significantly more money if there’s accident damage” – and said “there are some different proposals on the table”.

“We just need to make sure that we address that specific issue and we don’t put a rule in place that creates an opportunity that starts expanding the budget cap that we’ve all agreed to,” Brown warned.

Another issue is the image it will protect about the weekend’s race winners.

F1 wants to call it ‘sprint qualifying’ to differentiate it from the grand prix officially but that will not matter when fans see a race happens and that race has a winner, especially as some points will be awarded as well.

It is somewhat similar to concerns Formula E had about its double-header events, with no singular winner of any given E-Prix. However, that has a key difference in that it is two official, equal-status championship races.

Wolff, who is more supportive of this proposal than of the 2020 reverse-grid idea that would have hurt his team more, said: “We share the mindset that we are racing purists and we know of the importance of the grand prix.

“It’s always been like that and we mustn’t dilute the attraction of that singular event happening Sunday afternoon as somehow a cornerstone of everybody’s weekend.

“Now, we have always been very reluctant to change that traditional format and I have seen some experiments in other race series where they have put in a second race on Saturday and the audiences were actually quite interested.

“Having said that, it by far didn’t have the importance and tradition like Formula 1, so we need to be really careful of how we are testing things.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Bahrain Grand Prix Qualifying Day Sakhir, Bahrain

“We are in a data-driven world. We simulate, and here we are talking about going live with something that hasn’t been simulated properly.

“So, I don’t think we want to block anything – it’s worth the experiment – but we need to be very careful with it, with the format that we have and with the responsibility we carry for Formula 1.”

Horner said an F1 winner had to be recognised on Sundays.

“It’s almost like a pre-final, this race concept,” he said. “You’re winning a qualifying race, effectively you’re not a grand prix winner.

“We need to protect the DNA of the sport, the history of the sport.

“A grand prix winner should only be a guy that prevails on a Sunday afternoon. A pre-final on a Saturday is not a grand prix.”

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