F1 in race to finalise standalone Saturday sprint rules for Baku

Formula 1 is aiming to finalise new regulations for a standalone Saturday sprint race format, set to be introduced at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, in Melbourne this weekend.

Valtteri Bottas, Alfa Romeo C42, Zhou Guanyu, Alfa Romeo C42

The basic idea is for the sprint event and the grand prix to have their own qualifying sessions, and for the result of the sprint not to impact the grid positions for the main event.

The plan was announced by F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali at the last F1 Commission meeting, where it received widespread support from team bosses.

It was then presented to the teams' sporting directors at a recent meeting of the Sporting Advisory Committee, where rules are fine-tuned with the FIA.

It's understood that the sporting directors asked the FIA to come back with a definitive set of rule updates for further consideration.

Discussions have continued within the FIA over the Australian GP weekend and the final details have yet to be decided.

One plan is for Friday's FP1 session to be followed by a qualifying session for Sunday's main race.

On Saturday, the previously redundant and unpopular FP2 session would be replaced by qualifying for the sprint later that day.

However, an alternative version with sprint qualifying on Friday and race qualifying on Saturday is also still being discussed.

The challenge is that what sounds like a relatively simple change will involve major updates to the sporting regulations which already underwent an overhaul when sprints were introduced in 2021.

There are many aspects to be considered, such as how parc ferme will be treated, and the tyre allocation.

Pirelli has already manufactured and shipped the tyres for the Baku race weekend.

Valtteri Bottas, Alfa Romeo

Valtteri Bottas, Alfa Romeo

Photo by: Alfa Romeo

For sprints, each driver has 12 sets, compromised of two sets of hards, four sets of mediums, and six sets of softs. It will be impossible to run two complete, three-part qualifying sessions in the usual format with drivers using new tyres in both.

Teams have to give back two sets after FP1 and then typically they would use four sets of softs in Friday's race qualifying session.

If both the Friday and Saturday qualifying sessions are run in the normal format, teams could run used tyres in the latter.

However, an alternative option that has been mooted is a form of one-lap qualifying, which was used with varying degrees of success in 2003-05, and which would involve less tyre usage.

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The complication is that any updated version of the regulations will have to be drafted by the FIA and then run by the teams via the sporting directors who form the SAC.

However, many of them have holidays planned over the April break and Easter period which could delay the process of fine-tuning the rules.

The logistical challenge of getting the revised rules checked by the SAC members, then sent to the F1 Commission and onto the World Motor Sport Council for final approval in time for Baku could prove insurmountable.

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However, if it can't be done, the new format could be introduced at the next sprint event in Austria in the summer.

Haas boss Gunther Steiner confirmed that the sprint format discussion overlaps with recent comments from Domenicali about reducing the amount of practice generally.

Guenther Steiner, Team Principal, Haas F1 Team

Guenther Steiner, Team Principal, Haas F1 Team

Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images

"In Baku we are talking about having a second qualifying," said Steiner. "We don't know how we do it and if we do it.

"So I think once we have done that, that instead of FP2 on a sprint event on Saturday morning we do a qualifying and then we are in a situation to evaluate whether one FP, which would be FP1, would be enough to get out what we want, and go from there.

"And then decide what is next in making the free practice session more interesting for the spectator, because that is what we need to make it.

"So I think we need to take it step-by-step, get over this hurdle of how we can do a second qualifying on the weekend in the sprint events, and then maybe go the next step, what are we doing next?

"I think we don't have to sort out everything in one shot now all of a sudden, not doing free practice sessions."

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