Formula One‘s new sprint race format is generating excitement among drivers ahead of this weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix. The event will see the first of six sprints in 2023 and features an additional qualifying session known as the Sprint Shootout, which sets the grid for a 17-lap sprint on Saturday. The race no longer has any bearing on Sunday’s main event, with starting order determined by a traditional qualifying session on Friday. Multiple world champion Fernando Alonso says the lack of practice before the Shootout presents a unique challenge.
“In the past when I was doing one qualifying on Friday and one on Saturday, back in 2004, 2006 or whatever, we had always practice before qualifying,” Alonso said during media day in Baku. “There was FP1 or FP3 or whatever. Now we don’t have any practice and we go straight into Q1. So it’s more stressful. It’s very easy to make a mistake. I think at the end of Q3 we will all have the practice and we will optimize the lap. But in Q1 if you brake late, or you crash, especially here in Baku where there’s no room for mistakes, you could look terribly bad. So this weekend there is a big opportunity to have a big mistake.”
“When I was out of the sport in those two years and at home, I was not watching the practice, I have to be honest,” Alonso said. “They were just too long and boring, and I knew what the people were doing, you never know at home how many kilos of fuel they have, the engine maps, all these things were not interesting.”
Lewis Hamilton echoed his fellow multiple world champion’s support of the new format.
“It’s going to be tough for everybody but we’re all in the same boat,” Hamilton said. “And what a track to be able to do it at, where overtaking is possible, great racing here, we always have the best races. It’s definitely difficult to have one session, probably just 20 laps, and then straight into qualifying. I hope we’re in the mix, I hope we get to battle, it’s an amazing event for us to be able to do that. Particularly with the shake-up of the whole format, it’s probably the most exciting weekend so far this year. Looking forward to seeing how it turns out.”
“I think it’s a better format,” Norris said. “I prefer it a long way from what we had before, more and more opportunities for everyone. I like the fact we have two qualifyings. I love the format of practice, qualifying on Fridays. The pressure is definitely higher.”
Norris thinks F1 needs to be careful not to make the new format too common.
“I don’t want to have a sprint race every single weekend, I think it’s still important to have what we’ve had for many years. That’s what makes F1 exciting and cool. I like having a Saturday qualifying and Sunday race. But every now and then having these sprint races is good for the fans, good for people watching. Exciting to change things every now and then and it’s a better structure of doing that. Having it separate to Sunday, having a little Saturday on its own, is a good thing.”
The sprint race awards eight points to the top eight finishers, on a scale 8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1.