F1 Team Principals from McLaren, Mercedes, and Red Bull discuss the details, as well as the benefits and drawbacks of proposed sprint races.
As an idea for a qualifying format, sprint races have gained traction in F1 of late, with a proposal to use shortened qualifying races to decide the starting order for Sunday’s Grand Prix. In this format, each sprint race’s starting order would be decided by a traditional Qualifying session, albeit one which would occur on a Friday after FP1.
Though a proposal embraced by F1’s more open-minded fans, there are a number of objections to the system, which some say risks the dilution of Sunday’s Grand Prix – especially with points on offer for Sprint races, as has been proposed.
Mercedes’ Toto Wolff is among those who cautions that this could be a negative side-effect, but the Austrian still argues that a trial of this format would be worth it. “We mustn’t dilute the attraction of that singular event happening Sunday afternoon as somehow a cornerstone of everybody’s weekend,” he began.
“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.
“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,” Wolff summed up.
Though also warning that F1 has to “protect the DNA of the sport,” Red Bull boss Christian Horner nonetheless says the sport is effectively obligated to experiment. “Is the format right? I mean, it could just be a static Saturday race that creates a static Sunday race – but it’s another start, there’s more jeopardy, etcetera, etcetera.
“I think we have to give it a go. 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, with McLaren’s Zak Brown echoing his comments.
Sprint races would likely offer a maximum of three points for a winner, with the remaining two podium finishers earning two points and one point respectively. These points, though, would come at a cost: with an added Qualifying session on Friday, and a sprint race which would add risk of car damage, teams would no doubt have to increase spending to compete – antithetical, some say, to F1’s push for financial sustainability.
Some solutions, however, have been proposed to address this issue. One such solution would be an insurance system, ensuring reimbursement in the event of damage. Brown is confident that such a solution could work, but raises concerns that this could lead to concessions being made with regards to the budget cap.
“We just need to make sure that we address that specific issue and that it doesn’t create… we don’t put a rule in place that creates an opportunity that starts expanding the budget cap that we’ve all agreed to. So I’m confident that we’ll figure that out,” Brown said.
Wolff took a firmer stance on this matter, arguing that expanded operational costs could mean top teams will have to lay off more staff. Albeit without offering a solution, the 49-year-old makes clear this is an outcome Mercedes seek to avoid.
“Christian described the difficulties for our companies to change the processes and the way we have operated over the last few years and 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.
“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 any more, at all,” Wolff said.
Horner adds, perhaps to the contrary of Brown’s comments, that F1 must “make accommodations” for large teams, who are left in a tremendously difficult situation with 23 races, a budget cap, and the possibility of additional events in race weekends. “Look, we accept that cash in, for this, that what’s been proposed doesn’t match cash out at the moment,” he began.
“Effectively it’s an investment by the teams into FOM to say OK, we support this in the hope that if it works it generates future revenue, future interest, future benefit into the sport in future years but at the moment the cost benefit in terms of income in versus what it costs to operate these cars, you can see the kind of crude basis what it takes to operate a grand prix car and of course, adding in, effectively albeit a shortened race is just more cost that we’re naturally going to incur the usage of parts, etc, etc and so there just have to be a sensible allowance that takes that into account.
“As Toto says, 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,” Horner argued.
Here’s how Friday in F1 Bahrain GP went