I was not in favour of the ‘F1 sprint qualifying cut your balls off if you call it a race’ Saturday afternoon concept when it was mooted, and I was one of those who was livid about the ‘purity’ of the sport being destroyed even further when it was confirmed, but right now I’m trying to work out if I just need convincing, or if I’m just indifferent.
Did I enjoy it? Not really, but not for the reasons I expected. Do I think that qualifying should set the sprint grid and the sprint race result should set the Grand Prix line up? I’m still against that. Do I think that the ideals behind the introduction of of the format are justified? You can find that scathing negative in the latest issue of Motor Racing UK Magazine!
For paying fans attending the race weekend it works. No amount of practice and qualifying can ever offset the thrill of racing, but I was left with two impressions that were unnerving. First, the race seemed incomplete. Second, while watching the race I concluded that these cars are not built for sprint racing.
Before I get to those I want to say this: In the majority of club racing championships a 15 minute qualifying session is held. All the cars get out there and have to go for it every lap. They will catch traffic, but they have to make the most of it. I’m not suggesting that F1 goes for a 15 minute session at all, but if you want to mix things up then there might be the beginnings of a solution in that. All a sprint race looks like it’s going to do is put one or two drivers out of their normal placings, which the current format does often enough already.
Even with lower fuel levels and not as much tyre management the Silverstone Sprint after 17 laps felt just like a regular Grand Prix, after 17 laps. That explains the feeling that the race was incomplete. It felt like a race that had been red flagged for no reason, and everybody was just going to pack it in for the night. Perhaps that feeling will dissipate after the other rounds, and will eventually fade if it becomes a regular feature of Formula One. IndyCar runs the odd double-header, especially in Detroit, but often it feels a bit much and that’s not something I’d like to see F1 jump onboard with.
The second thing as I stated was that the cars are not sprint cars. Yes, they are beasts in qualifying – after pittling around on a warm up lap they are untamed and raw for that lap, but they are Grand Prix machines. Majestic, designed to challenge drivers for an 190 miles, but for 25 minutes it doesn’t produce the bang that say an F3 race does, or (I know some ill see this as blasphemy) Touring Cars.
Away from the great and good of British motor racing being at Silverstone there was some Touring Car racing at Oulton Park. Not the BTCC, but the Touring Car Trophy with one former BTCC machine and 15 TCR entries. The TCR design means that the cars are as comfortable in a 24 hour race as they are in a 20 minute door-to-door sprint. Their cousins in the BTCC are designed specifically for this, but I wouldn’t wager any money on them in an endurance contest. That is where it stands. The opening 20 minute race was an outstanding contest of head-to-head battling behind the leader for the full duration of the contest. There was the some light taps, but for the most part it was clean hard racing (BTCC budgets are not a feature of TCT racing!) If the F1 Sprint race (yes, it’s a race) had half as much excitement then it would be signed and sealed tonight, but it wasn’t. Perhaps if the 2022 cars are everything they’re cracked up to be then it might work, but as I said, I need to be convinced – which is far from saying ‘it must be stopped!
The weak reasoning for the introduction (again, in the latest issue of Motor Racing UK the ‘Brawn Idiocy’ article digs a little deeper) didn’t stand up. The short attention span theatre ideology didn’t take hold this time, and that reasoning debilitates the selling point. F1 wants a new intake of fans, but a few short races won’t make that happen. When fans do come to the sport they want to see the real deal, and the real deal is an hour and a half of racing. Real fans will want to drink in the culture and history of the sport, and it is a sport with a history and culture unlike any other. They don’t want to be mollycoddled. Back in the seventies professional soccer in the USA with the NASL tried all kinds of gimmicks. It didn’t last and was considered a laughing stock to the rest of the world, but after the 1994 World Cup and the birth of the MSL the American public got behind the sport and the idea of a 35 yard line for offside, or a penalty run off (not kicks from the spot) deciding every draw would be baulked at now. They like the real game. ‘new’ fans are being hoodwinked a little at the moment – unless the sprint remains.
Taking the piss out of the fans is at the heart of it all. The good thing about this weekend is that folk who are paying stupid amounts of money to attend a GP have at least had three meaningful days for their money. That is a good move because F1 has relied on those fans accepting less than they should get for their buck for far too long. Go back 20 -25 years at the British GP and you had the BTCC and British F3 or British GT on the bill. It was a day full of on-track action, in fact it was so packed that support race track time had to start on the Thursday!
F1 fans are some of the higher brow enthusiasts in major sports and those that already live their lives around the sport they need to be treated as such by F1 and Liberty. Like I’ve already stated, I’m not entirely against the idea, and if F1 keeps it I hope they are prepared to modify it where needs must, but there is one thing about the Sprint format that needs to be scrapped now, then it’s that post race lorry. Get id of it and use the ones that are already there for the driver parade. The fans can see them properly then. My gripe about the drivers parade on raceday morning is that there is always someone interviewing them – which happened for the post ‘race’ event. This for many is the only chance for many, many fans to see the drivers out of their car in the flesh, but they spend half the time with the back to the crowd. If F1 is trying to entertain and maintain the crowd then let them have the drivers to themselves for just one lap of the weekend. Please.