Double Formula 1 World Champion Max Verstappen does not see the point of Sprints Race weekends, despite the fact that more have been piled for the next season and that he’s amassed more points, by far, than any other driver in the five runnings of the format.
F1 ran the first Sprint Race format during the 2021 British Grand Prix, a forgotten sideshow of a weekend whose headlines were all about Verstappen and Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton, embroiled in a tense title fight; the first lap high-speed crash that ended the Red Bull driver’s race on the spot.
The point is: hardly anyone remembers the first-ever Sprint Race! When it happened and who won it. Max did, of course. And, furthermore what to call it? A Sprint Race? In the end, it officially became the mouthful that is ‘Sprint Qualification.’
The format was trialed once again at Monza and Interlagos last year with the consensus among teams, drivers and fans alike that the whole concept did nothing for the main event and was little more than a procession.
Nevertheless, F1 chiefs persisted, convinced the teams with the right numbers, and three were penned in for 2022 with Imola hosting a now-forgotten Sprint, Monza too and Interlagos get’s it for a second year running next weekend.
But promoters are literally buying into the concept with enthusiasm as the Sprint on Saturday supposedly attracts bigger crowds than just qualifying as has been the norm, hence three more have been added to the 2023 roster, making it six Sprint weekends for 2023.
Formula 1 ignored popular sentiment and F1 now has Six Sprints races scheduled in 2023?
Clearly, Stefano Domenicali and his team were not paying any attention to driver, team nor fan feedback that were largely underwhelmed by the concept, and asked a simple question of it: What’s the point?
This week, speaking on Formula Nerds podcast, Verstappen discussed Sprint Races and what they mean for a race weekend: “Every time I do them, it’s about ‘don’t get any damage, make sure you stay in the top three.
“You do another start, which is exciting, but it’s only really people who are out of position that move forward because only you put a tyre on that just lasts a whole stint and not much happens.”
“I don’t understand what the problem is for that, because we’ve had so many exciting races, so you don’t need to add one-third of a race distance.
“Everyone is so careful anyway because if you are fighting for third and you have a little touch and you drop to last, you know your Saturday is going to be tough. Probably you won’t risk it, so that’s not really a race,” insisted Verstappen.
The Dutch ace putting aside self-interests and speaking from the heart about the concept; after all F1 stats show that Red Bull ace won three of the five Sprints so far; at Silverstone in 2021, Imola and Austria in 2022; finishing second at Monza and Interlagos last season.
Verstappen is not alone in questioning the need for Sprint Races in F1
While most drivers are not keen to speak their minds, those who can are united in questioning the reason for changing the traditional weekend format that worked so well.
The German agreed with Verstappen, in that the Sprints are more about survival than racing and claimed: “I don’t want to be the bad guy for just being the bad guy, but I think it is a way to make more money. If there is a race, obviously it’s more exciting than maybe a practice session. You have more people watching.
“So I guess it’s a question of approach, but then I don’t have full access to the numbers. That’s what we were told some while ago,” added Vettel.
In agreement is Lando Norris who likes “F1 as it is” citing the build-up from Qualifying on Saturday and Sunday as the key elements to a Grand Prix weekend.
Fellow Briton and seven-time F1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton, has not criticized the format but has urged F1 chiefs to be selective about where to run Sprint Races.
The third and final Sprint Race weekend of the season will take place this weekend at the Brazilian Grand Prix, with FP1 and Sprint Qualifying on Friday, FP2, and the Sprint Race to decide Sunday’s grid.