F1's sprint qualifying: How does it work and when is it happening?

Sprint races have been confirmed for three races in the 2021 Formula 1 season, but what are they and how will they work?

F1's sprint qualifying: How does it work and when is it happening?

What is a sprint race and why are they coming to F1?

A sprint race is essentially a shortened version of a normal race, taking place over a shorter distance. They’re used in many other series, though perhaps most notably for Formula 1 is their inclusion in the Formula 2 race weekend. In F2 the sprint race is 120km and the feature race covers 170km, though are usually no less exciting.

The 2017 Bahrain F2 round was one example of this. Now-Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc opted to pit during the sprint race – pitting being optional and a little-used tactic in sprint races – coming out of the pits in 14th place with eight laps to go. Over the remaining laps he charged to the front of the field, taking the win and creating one of the most exciting sprint races in the process.

The reason they're coming to Formula 1 is to ramp up the excitement of the whole race weekend. With fans now having a highlight on each of the three days (with either qualifying or a race), it should make for an overall better experience. F1 has long been looking to make changes to the traditional race weekend format and while other options like reverse grid races were considered, they were ultimately unfancied compared to sprint races.

Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB16B

Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB16B

Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images

What is the sprint race weekend format?

Weekends with sprint races will have different timetables to normal race weekends. Friday changes mean that the new-for-2021 format of two one-hour free practice sessions – reduced from two 90-minute session used last year – will swap to just a single one-hour practice session followed by the ‘traditional’ three-part qualifying knockout format.

On Saturday the familiar one-hour final practice session remains in place in the morning, but qualifying is replaced by a sprint race. Sunday remains the same though, with just the F1 grand prix in the afternoon (or evening if it is a night race).

The sprint races themselves will be run over 100km, with the full-length races staying at 305km or 260km for Monaco. There will be no mandatory pitstops, though drivers will be able to enter the pits should they want to.

The sprint race weekend format will be:

  • Friday morning – 60-minute Free Practice 1
  • Friday afternoon – Q1, Q2, Q3 sessions to order the starting grid for the sprint race qualifying
  • Saturday morning – 60-minute Free Practice 2
  • Saturday afternoon – 100km sprint race qualifying
  • Sunday – Full grand prix race

Rules around tyres are also changing. In Friday’s first practice each driver can only use two sets of tyres, while the Friday qualifying session will provide drivers with five soft tyres sets. After that teams will use these options for tyres for the remainder of the weekend:

  • One set of tyres for Saturday’s practice session - teams decide which compound
  • One set for the sprint race - teams decide which compound
  • Two remaining sets of tyres for the grand prix, with teams able to choose which compound to start on

In the event of wet conditions:

Three sets of wet tyres and four sets of intermediate tyres will be available at the start of the event. If FP1 or qualifying is wet, teams will receive an additional set of intermediates but must return a used intermediate set prior to the sprint race. If the sprint qualifying is wet, teams may return one set of used wet or intermediates after – which will then be replaced with a new set of intermediates. There will be a maximum of nine sets of wets and intermediates in total.

Lance Stroll, Aston Martin AMR21, on the grid

Lance Stroll, Aston Martin AMR21, on the grid

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

How many sprint races will happen?

Currently there are three sprint races planned for the 2021 season, the first of which is scheduled to take place during the British Grand Prix at Silverstone on Saturday 17 July, 2021. While the second and third sprint race venues haven’t been announced yet, the understanding is that there will be two sprint races in Europe and one at a flyaway event. With Silverstone confirmed as one of the European races, it’s thought that the Italian Grand Prix weekend in September will host the other European sprint race. The third sprint race has been rumoured to be the Brazilian Grand Prix in November.

Will drivers and teams score points for the sprint races?

Points will be awarded for the sprint race, but only to the top three finishers. First place scores three points, second place scores two points, and third place scores one point. Unlike the full-length race on Sunday there will be no podiums for sprint races, however the winner will receive a trophy in parc ferme (similar to how the polesitter gets a miniature Pirelli tyre for qualifying first).

What will happen if a driver doesn’t finish a sprint race?

While there are no clear answers to this until the FIA publishes the full sporting regulations on the sprint race qualifying, one assumption would be that a driver who doesn’t finish the sprint race would have to start the grand prix in the position they would be ordered in for the final classification of the sprint race. For example, if a driver fails to finish the race and they were the first one to retire or did not start the sprint race, they would start Sunday’s grand prix from the back of the grid (much in the same way that a driver who crashes out of qualifying would start from the back of the grid).

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL35M, makes a pit stop

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL35M, makes a pit stop

Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images

What happens if a car gets damaged?

To offset the cost of sprint races a package worth around $500,000 for the three events has been agreed with teams. In addition to this payment there’s also a compensation scheme for teams who suffer damage during sprint race qualifying, which should ensure that a driver who damages their car on Saturday should still be able to continue on Sunday (much as they would if they crashed out of qualifying on a normal race weekend). Outside of the monetary aspect, if a car suffers damage during a sprint race then teams will have to replace the broken parts with like-for-like parts. This is because the cars enter parc ferme conditions – the point at which major changes can no longer be made – when they enter qualifying on Friday.

Will sprint races be used in the future in F1?

It’s unclear whether sprint races will be continued beyond the three planned for the 2021 season. If the races are a success then they may well be continued into the 2022 season and beyond, though F1 does not intent to run them at every race. However there’s a chance that, if drivers, teams or fans don’t enjoy the new format, sprint races could be dropped. During the 2016 F1 season, for example, the controversial “elimination qualifying” format – in which every 90 seconds of qualifying the slowest car was eliminated – was dropped after two rounds following a backlash from drivers, teams and fans.

shares
comments

Related video

The data that leaves both Red Bull and Mercedes uncertain of supremacy at Portimao

Previous article

The data that leaves both Red Bull and Mercedes uncertain of supremacy at Portimao

Next article

Ilott set for next Alfa Romeo F1 practice outing at French GP

Ilott set for next Alfa Romeo F1 practice outing at French GP
Load comments

About this article

Series Formula 1
Author Tom Jeffries
Why McLaren doesn’t doubt Ricciardo can escape his ‘dark’ place Plus

Why McLaren doesn’t doubt Ricciardo can escape his ‘dark’ place

Three points finishes from as many starts represents a decent opening innings on paper, but Daniel Ricciardo has endured a tough start to his McLaren career - only magnified his team-mate's excellent form. Yet both he and the team have good reason to expect a turnaround soon

What needs to “change” for Red Bull is ending Verstappen’s errors Plus

What needs to “change” for Red Bull is ending Verstappen’s errors

OPINION: Going up against the dominant force of Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton was always going to demand the best from Red Bull and Max Verstappen. But after making a couple more errors during the Portuguese Grand Prix, the Dutch driver showed there's a small gap he still needs to close in the 2021 Formula 1 title fight

The "subtle" Red Bull upgrades that kept it in the Portugal F1 mix Plus

The "subtle" Red Bull upgrades that kept it in the Portugal F1 mix

Red Bull's Portuguese Grand Prix fortunes were decidedly second best to Mercedes', but the result skews the potential that the team had at Portimao. With a new set of updates, the team looks good going forward into the rest of 2021's spicy F1 competition

Formula 1
May 3, 2021
Portuguese Grand Prix Driver Ratings Plus

Portuguese Grand Prix Driver Ratings

The 2021 Portuguese GP will for several drivers go down as a weekend of missed opportunities amid imperfect track conditions that caused struggles with tyre warmup. But the performances of a select few stood out from the crowd

Formula 1
May 3, 2021
How Hamilton took a “completely different journey” to Portugal victory Plus

How Hamilton took a “completely different journey” to Portugal victory

Just as he did in 2020, Lewis Hamilton had to come from behind to win the 2021 Portuguese Grand Prix. Only this time there were two rivals he had to pass, among the several challenges he had to overcome, on his way to securing a 97th grand prix victory

Formula 1
May 3, 2021
The ‘big fish’ mentality that kept an Australian legend winning Plus

The ‘big fish’ mentality that kept an Australian legend winning

Frank Gardner was the veteran of just eight grand prix starts. It could have been more, but why waste his talent if the cars weren't up to it? NIGEL ROEBUCK recalls the life of one of racing's great characters

Formula 1
May 2, 2021
Why Todt’s FIA successor could be cut from the same cloth Plus

Why Todt’s FIA successor could be cut from the same cloth

Jean Todt has signalled that he will not stand for re-election as FIA president. MARK GALLAGHER analyses the strong credentials of one potential successor…

Formula 1
May 1, 2021
The data that leaves both Red Bull and Mercedes uncertain of supremacy at Portimao Plus

The data that leaves both Red Bull and Mercedes uncertain of supremacy at Portimao

Lewis Hamilton topped the crucial FP2 session on Friday as F1 returned to Portugal, but his Mercedes team cannot be sure it has the edge on its Red Bull rivals. As cool temperatures and wind combine with the still-slippery surface to present drivers with quandaries over set-up and tyre warmup, there's still everything to play for come qualifying

Formula 1
Apr 30, 2021