Russell: F1 sprint races need to be 50% longer to work

George Russell is “not a major fan” of Formula 1’s sprint races under their current format, believing they need to be 50% longer to make tyre degradation a factor.

Russell: F1 sprint races need to be 50% longer to work

F1 staged its first sprint race of the season at Imola last weekend after introducing the new format at three events in 2021.

The sprint race takes place on a Saturday, running to one-third of the grand prix distance, and sets the grid for Sunday as well as offering points to the top eight finishers.

Sprint races have divided opinion since their introduction among both fans and drivers. While many see the benefits of having action on all three days of the race weekend, others feels more tweaks need to be made to the format moving forward.

Russell endured a difficult Saturday for Mercedes in the sprint race, starting and finishing 11th as he struggled to make any progress.

“I’m not a major fan of it, in all honesty,” Russell said of the sprint format.

“It needs to probably be 50% longer, or just that little bit longer to see the tyres degrading.

“The drivers maybe need to manage the tyres a bit more, and then you can see a bit more of a difference between cars.

“At the moment, everyone is just going flat out, and there’s not a big enough lap time difference to see those overtakes, unless you qualify out of position like you saw with some cars.”

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari F1-75, Lando Norris, McLaren MCL36, Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB18, Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB18, the rest of the field at the start

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari F1-75, Lando Norris, McLaren MCL36, Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB18, Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB18, the rest of the field at the start

Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images

Drivers get a free choice of starting tyre for the sprint, with most opting to fit the softest available compound. The 21-lap race at Imola saw three drivers start on mediums in the hope the soft runners would struggle more with degradation, only to find this was not the case.

Haas driver Kevin Magnussen slipped from fourth to eighth in the sprint after opting to run mediums. But his bigger question mark lay with the need to lock in set-ups under parc ferme for qualifying on Friday after just one practice session.

“There could be some tweaks, and I don’t know if I agree with the parc ferme between FP1 and qualifying,” Magnussen said. “You can’t work on the car anymore and that is a little tougher for the smaller teams.”

Magnussen also felt that making the sprints standalone races that did not influence the grid for Sunday would make drivers “fight a little harder and take more risk”.

The idea of switching to standalone sprint races is being discussed as a future format change, as well as expanding the number of sprints to six as of next year.

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Teams gave their support to the plan for six sprints in 2023 at the F1 Commission meeting on Tuesday, only for the FIA to block the plan. It is understood to be seeking a greater financial contribution, and also said it was “evaluating the impact of this proposal on its trackside operations and personnel”. 

McLaren’s Lando Norris said the main element of the sprint weekend he enjoyed was having competitive action on all three days, although he urged caution about expanding the format.

“The main thing I enjoy about the sprint is Friday, just practice-qualifying, especially with the conditions making it tougher than normal,” Norris said.

“I like them. It’s something you’re used to more from F3 and F2. I think it’s just a bigger challenge for the drivers. The fact you have two race starts, you always look forward to the main race more than the sprint race, but the fact you have two starts and you get stuck in and you’ve got to take those risks, the feeling you get is good.

“I like it, but much more than three, I would probably say I’m not such a fan.”

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