The next Grand Prix of the 2021 Formula 1 Calendar will bring with it a moment in history. The pinnacle of motorsport will feature the Championship’s first ever sprint race during the course of the British Grand Prix weekend. Speaking to Channel 4, F1’s Managing Director Ross Brawn shared his thoughts on this moment in history which appears to have split the fan base. The comments from the F1 legend showed that he is ‘nervous’ yet also ‘excited’.
Formula One knows it faces competition in motor racing from the sustainability of Formula E and the innovation of hypercars in the World Endurance Championship. These categories, along with NASCAR, Moto GP and IndyCar have continued to grow in popularity and F1 knows it has to do something to stay out in front. This brings us to the design of a sprint race to decide the starting grid of a Grand Prix and one thing is for sure the outcome and reaction is unknown. Such a mindset was demonstrated by F1’s Managing Director Ross Brawn in his televised comments to Channel 4’s Formula One coverage:
“I am nervous, it’s the unknown,” Brawn remarked. “But I think we put a huge amount of work into it, the teams themselves have put a huge amount of work into it, so I think it’s got the greatest opportunity of success.”
Support from teams was vital seeing how the advent of the sprint qualifying means that there will be one less practice session in the Grand Prix weekend. This, during a season which already saw 90 minute sessions on a Friday reduced to an hour, will have a huge impact on a team's setup. However, getting teams onside was very different to getting fans onside and Brawn is aware that the jury is still out on that:
“We need to engage the fans and we need to ensure we have a race that they really get excited about,” Brawn said. “I think they will, but we don’t know until we get there.”
Fans will certainly have time to get used to the format seeing how there are two more sprint races scheduled for the 2021 season, a season though which has been gripping and as such many fans feel it does not need such gimmicks. For the minds behind F1, it is clear the expectation and long term vision they have for this innovative format.
“The best thing ultimately that could happen is it becomes part of a grand prix weekend,” said Brawn. “Maybe not every race. But I think the thing that we want to stress is it’s expanding the weekend. We have a great event on Friday now because we have qualifying.”
However, the sprint race format’s delivery has been far from smooth sailing seeing how a week ago Brawn had to backtrack on previous comments:
“I probably have to correct something I've said before because initially we thought it would still be the Friday qualifying,” Brawn told Motorsport.com “But, in fact, after discussions with the FIA, they feel pole position is the guy in front of the grid for the grand prix. So it's the person who finishes a sprint in first place, it's the one who is on the front of the grid and has pole position for the race, the grand prix, on a Sunday. And that's what we'll count statistically towards the number of poles, because it is the sprint qualifying."
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Nevertheless, in his comments to Channel 4 this past weekend Ross Brawn was in full on hype mode:
“We have the Sprint on Saturday and then we have the grand prix on Sunday, which is the pinnacle event of the weekend. So we really try to add to it, make sure we don’t take away from the grand prix…We have to decide if this is something which we roll out completely or whether it’s just for feature events. So there’s quite a lot of discussion to have.”
“What I’m really pleased about is Formula 1 is given this opportunity of three races to evaluate whether this is something we want to take forward. And I think that’s a really positive step from Formula 1 to do that.”
As with many ideas from F1’s past, the fans ultimately will be the ones to have the final say. During the British Grand Prix, a capacity crowd will no doubt make their feelings known should the format prove to be a procession, (as predicted by Lewis Hamilton) - or something spectacular.
One thing is for sure, in a few months' time, we will know whether the sprint race qualifying format will be around for 3 races and one of F1’s forgotten or ideas or in fact a blueprint for years to come. Should it prove to be the latter, sprint race qualifying could feature over the course of the next 30 or even 300 Grand Prix events…but for now it starts with 3. Due to this, all eyes will be on Silverstone, especially those belonging to a ‘nervous’ yet ‘optimistic’ Ross Brawn.