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Wolff: F1 needs to try sprint races despite inevitable controversy

Toto Wolff believes the introduction of sprint races to Formula 1 in 2021 is something the series “needs to do” despite accepting it will “create controversy”.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB16 Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes F1 W11 and Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W11 at the start of the race

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB16 Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes F1 W11 and Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W11 at the start of the race

Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

F1 is currently establishing details for the running of sprint races at three grands prix in 2021, staged on Saturdays to set the grid for the Sunday race.

The proposal to hold sprint races in Canada, Italy and Brazil received “broad support” from teams at the latest F1 Commission meeting, but requires further details to be finalised before a decision is taken later this month.

Drivers have so far been lukewarm over the plans, with many airing concerns that it could devalue the main grand prix on Sundays.

But Mercedes team principal Wolff felt adding another race to the weekend schedule could be successful for F1, citing DTM’s decision to hold races on Saturday and Sunday since 2014 as proof of the benefits.

“The sprint races are an interesting format in my opinion, and an experiment which I believe we need to do," Wolff said when asked by Autosport for his view on the plan.

“I’ve seen in other racing series, like DTM, that the audience almost doubled with having a Saturday and Sunday race, and that obviously can be monetised.

“I think if we were to do this without some interference to create a fake show, then there is merit to try it.

“I’m not sure we will like the outcome, because qualifying as we have it today is a real qualifying and a sprint race always bears the risk of damage which can be costly and a huge impact on Sunday’s grid and the ability to perform.

Toto Wolff, Executive Director (Business), Mercedes AMG

Toto Wolff, Executive Director (Business), Mercedes AMG

Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images

“For sure it is going to create controversy too, but giving it a try for three races in 2021 in the right framework, we will be up for it.”

F1 had originally considered staging sprint races at some events in 2020 using a reversed-grid format, only for Mercedes to block the proposal.

Wolff stressed at the time that Mercedes would not support a “lottery” format by reversing the grid to favour its rivals, saying it went against the DNA of F1.

Despite now being in favour of sprint races, Wolff said it was only because the grid for the Saturday event would still be determined by a regular qualifying session on Saturday, avoiding any artificial results.

“Reverse grids have no place in any sport that is based on measuring and competing in the true sense of sport,” Wolff said.

“We are entertainment, but the moment we slide into show and Hollywood, you will lose a lot of credibility as a sport overall.

“Not every decision that increases the entertainment factor is right for Formula 1. It always needs to be balanced between the DNA of true sport, best man and machine wins, and what the fans would like to see.”

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