It’s been one of the most divisive format changes in Formula 1 history, with some loving the potential for more action across the spread of a grand prix weekend, others raging at the disrespect for his historical value of a qualifying session and many simply asking ‘what’s the point?’
But now the first ever F1 sprint is in the books, what did we make of it in reality?
Too flat a race to win me over
It was exactly what I expected a 17-lap F1 race without a pitstop or tyre variation to be – not that interesting unless cars were out of position.
There were elements of intrigue. Would Lewis Hamilton be able to repass Max Verstappen? Would Valtteri Bottas’s softs fade? How would Fernando Alonso fare after his mega first lap on softs? And of course, one of the quickest four cars spun to the back.
But the ‘battle’ at the front really only lasted a lap. A start’s always fun, a first lap’s always fun. And there were a few talking points behind. But nothing substantial.
And arguably we have a weaker grid now at the front because of it. It could be said that Hamilton should be on an underdog pole but instead Verstappen has won back track advantage.
There’s no denying the weekend has been a bit more dynamic up to this point but this race specifically was about as exciting as I thought it would be. So I guess it depends whether fans enjoyed the intrigue of that race or just felt it was quite boring.
And let’s see tomorrow if the race really has been compromised slightly by putting the fastest car back on pole after it failed to get there in qualifying.
The drivers made it work
The sprint (race) was a lot better than I expected. To be honest the drivers made it, that first lap or even two was a no-holds-barred battle at the front and Fernando Alonso’s first lap on the softs was mega. Compare his to Valtteri Bottas’s, both on softs, and it was a different dimension.
Would it happen this way every weekend? No. This was the first so everyone was feeling their way into it, but racers are racers and that’s what we need to see. I’m pretty sure if we have too many of them it would all calm down dramatically.
Also, we shouldn’t forget this was the first event for a long time where we had 100,000+ spectators. With three British drivers running in the top 10, they made a big part of it, but if the stands had been empty it would have been a very different story.
I would also like to say to the TV director, it’s a 17-lap race so don’t cut to so many start replays so early. There will always be time later, just show us the live action until it settles down.
Promising, but the race faded
Overall I’d say it was a positive. Not so much because of the sprint itself but because the reorganisation of the weekend it entailed gave Friday more of a buzz. It meant something to have a proper qualifying session on the first day.
The highlights of the sprint were largely confined to the opening lap. Hamilton shimmying with Verstappen into Brooklands and on the approach to Copse was thrilling stuff and had the crowd screaming its approval. They felt special moments. Alonso’s take no prisoners first lap was a thing of ragged beauty.
But it settled down remarkably quickly didn’t it.
A pleasant surprise
The sprint race was much better than I was expecting. Would I rather watch that spectacle on a Saturday afternoon to decide the grid than a qualifying session? Absolutely. And we still got qualifying, which gave Friday more meaning and carried the added benefit of less practice time for the teams.
To judge the sprint format properly, we need to see what impact it has on the race on Sunday. The fear is that it shuffles the majority of the cars into position based on race pace, meaning less happens in the grand prix. If that’s how it turns out, then we’ve got to ask if a bit more entertainment on Saturday is worth the impact it has on the main event.
There’s also the risk that once we’ve had a few more of these weekends, the teams will get a better understanding of the format, and will converge on strategies and approach.
But looking at the 100km dash in isolation, which is all we can do at the moment, what we got was a pleasant surprise.
It’s risked damaging the grand prix
I enjoyed the sprint race more than I expected to and the amount of action on track will have definitely given fans attending on Saturday value for money.
But while it will no doubt create some intrigue leading into Sunday’s main race, I fear it could be detrimental to the value of the actual grand prix.
With cars in parc ferme and changes limited, everyone has pretty much shown their hand and so it could end up remaining a stalemate after the first lap barring any major incidents.
And for me, that’s the issue. The grand prix should be the main event, and this weekend that might not be the case.
It was great, but one race proves little
Was it decent? Sure. I think better than decent, if I’m being honest. But I don’t think there should’ve been much doubt that it was going to be eminently watchable – after all, the opening laps are the most fun part of the majority of F1 races.
One decent outing doesn’t prove or disprove much, apart from allaying fears that drivers weren’t going to be combative. Beyond that, what we know now is what we knew before – namely that replacing the second Friday practice with an actual meaningful session is a welcome and worthy cause.
This weekend has been enhanced by that decision. But the problem with the sprint is that it remains a drastic yet fairly unimaginative idea. It still feels like a first draft. It is the vanilla version of what F1 actually wanted, ie the reverse-grid format.
A trial doesn’t really change that. What it does perhaps do is help us get used to the idea of an F1 weekend having two races. Whether that’s a good or a bad thing ‘philosophically’ is a different question entirely – but at the moment, it has proven reasonably fun.
I’m now a tentative sprint fan
I was in the ‘it’ll just be the first stint of the race on Saturday and then a less tense Sunday’ camp. I now think I might’ve been wrong.
There’s still the reservation that if the grand prix is flat, it will feel like the sprint took the sting out of it.
But overall it feels like this is making the entire grand prix weekend more eventful, and adding more episodes of significance, and I’ve really enjoyed that.
I’d underestimated the difference the unusual Friday schedule would make. There were definitely cars out of position in qualifying that would’ve been in their ‘rightful’ place had there been three full practice sessions and qualifying had run in a more traditional timeslot.
Do we now have a more boring GP grid as a result? With Alonso up to seventh and ready to take aim at the McLarens again, and Sergio Perez down in 20th with a lot of work to do, I’d say we don’t.
The question mark is at the front, and whether this has robbed us of an underdog pole and a GP of Hamilton trying to fend off Verstappen’s faster Red Bull.
But it’s not yet clear where the title rivals really stand on outright pace this weekend. Verstappen would probably have beaten Hamilton off the line on Sunday just as he did today.
Now Hamilton gets another shot at coming back at him. The second start and full GP distance create a reset opportunity. The existence of the sprint gave Mercedes a chance to roll the dice with Bottas’s tyre choice in a way that might’ve been unlikely on a Sunday.
Does it need to be the law that a grand prix weekend is weighted absolutely dominantly to a Sunday afternoon? For fans at the track, fans watching on TV, journalists and probably drivers too, a greater percentage of the weekend mattering feels like a good thing.
Unless Sunday turns out to be rubbish as a consequence, of course.