New Aston Martin driver Sebastian Vettel says Formula 1’s plan to trial Saturday sprint races in 2021 “makes no sense”.
The four-time champion, who is a director of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association, is the first F1 driver to come out strongly against F1’s proposal, which is known to have the teams’ broad support.
Under F1’s plan, it would trial Saturday sprint races at three events in 2021 – in Montreal, Monza and Interlagos – as the method for setting the grid for the main Sunday grand prix. These short-form races would in turn draw their own grid from a Friday qualifying in place of FP2, and would potentially award points at a decreased scale.
Reaction from drivers polled so far has been tentatively positive, with McLaren duo Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo addressing the idea during launch and appearing largely open to it, albeit with reservations.
Vettel, however, has made it clear he is not on board.
“I don’t know what the thinking behind it is,” Vettel said. “I don’t like it.
“We are entertainment but the moment you slide into show and Hollywood you will lose a lot of credibility as a sport overall” :: Toto Wolff
“Why would you have a pre-final to a final? What’s the point of that? I don’t understand it.
“In my view it makes no sense. You have the grand prix and it’s always been round 300km and the main challenge of the weekend. If you have to introduce something like this then there’s something else you need to fix.
“Another race or Q4 or Q5 is maybe shifting the focus away from the real problem. It’s more of a patch than a fix.”
His new team-mate Lance Stroll was more welcoming but echoed Vettel’s sentiment that F1 had other, more pressure issues to work on.
“I think there are bigger problems to solve,” he said. “There are bigger fundamental issues that the sport has to address.”
The sprint race idea arrives on the tail of F1’s unsuccessful push to experiment with a reverse-grid qualifying race in 2020.
This would eliminate qualifying and make the Saturday grid on the basis of an inversion of the championship order – but while F1 was keen and at one point believed it would be able to push it through, it ultimately couldn’t overcome Mercedes’ opposition.
But Mercedes F1 boss Toto Wolff believes the 2021 sprint race proposal is a completely different animal to the reverse-grid idea, and has cited the DTM’s experience with adding a Saturday race as an argument for trying it in F1.
“Reverse grids have no place in any sport that is based on measuring and competing in the true sense of sport,” Wolff said.
“We are entertainment but the moment you slide into show and Hollywood you will lose a lot of credibility as a sport overall.
“So not every decision that aims to increase the entertainment factor is right for Formula 1, it always needs to be balanced with the DNA of true sports, ‘best man and best machine wins’.
“The sprint races are an interesting format, in my opinion, and an experiment which I believe we need to do. I’ve seen in other racing series – in DTM that the audience is almost doubled with having a Saturday and Sunday race. And that obviously can be monetised.
“I think if we were to do this without some interference to create a fake show it has merit to try it. I’m not sure that we’ll like the outcome, because qualifying how we have it today is a real qualifying and a sprint race always bears the risk of damage that can be costly and [have] a huge impact on the Sunday grid and then the Sunday’s ability to perform.
“And for sure it’s going to create controversy too – but giving it a try for three races in 2021, with the right framework, we would be up for it.”
Alpine’s executive director Marcin Budkowski confirmed that his team was also in favour, as he believed the format created “excitement over three days” during a grand prix weekend”.
“At the end of the day we need to put a good show on,” he said. “And I think that’s going to help put on a good show for the fans.”
However, Vettel’s team bosses at Aston Martin have taken a much more reserved public stance, stressing the need to hash out the details to make the trials happen.
“If we don’t get the rules right because the cars are already designed and built, we could jeopardise the main race for the sprint race,” team boss Otmar Szafnauer warned.
Tech chief Andy Green agreed: “We have seen a proposal, which I think most teams were in favour of examining. But the devil is in the detail, and the detail hasn’t been thrashed out yet.
“So there are lots of discussion points, there are lots of areas that need looking at.”