Every Formula 1 weekend brings with it a number of extremely tough challenges. This is the pinnacle of motorsport, after all, so nothing comes easy.
But while there are different track layouts, weather conditions, altitudes and so on to deal with on a race-by-race basis, normally it is all done with the final goal of completing a grand prix distance in the quickest possible time. And to do that, we usually get three free practice sessions and one qualifying session to prepare.
This weekend at Silverstone will be different.
Instead of the usual race weekend format, Formula 1 will trial a qualifying race - known as the ‘Sprint’ - for the first time. It’s not called the ‘Sprint Race’ because the race still exists, and it’s not called ‘Sprint Qualifying’ because qualifying still exists, so it’s just the ‘Sprint’.
Regardless of what you’re calling it, it means a different format where there will be a single one-hour practice session on Friday followed by a normal qualifying session (the one you’re used to seeing on a Saturday afternoon) on Friday evening. That session will set the grid for the Sprint, and the only difference to qualifying anywhere else is that everyone must use the softest tyre compound throughout.
Then on Saturday there is a second one-hour practice session in the morning, before the Sprint in the afternoon. This will be a 100km race, with the finishing order then determining the grid for the grand prix on Sunday. There are also points on offer to the top three finishers, with three for the winner, two for second place and one for third.
On Sunday, we will have the British Grand Prix as normal, with the starting order defined by the finishing order from the Sprint, so the winner of the Sprint takes pole position.
Aside from the sporting variation, it’s a major change in the way we need to approach a race weekend, as Honda’s chief engineer for Scuderia AlphaTauri, Masamitsu Motohashi, explains.
“Because FP1 is the only time where we can try and find suitable settings for the race, our simulations in the factory before coming to the circuit will be crucial,” Motohashi-san says. “Having to decide the power unit settings just after FP1 is something we have never tried, but we are trying to do the simulation as accurately as possible.
“From a reliability point of view, it’ll be tougher than a normal weekend because of the Sprint, which means running the PU in race mode for a longer period of time.
“And while it is not critical nor directly impacting on this weekend, but as we are only allowed a limited number of power units in a year, we will need to take it into consideration when we think of the PU allocation plan for the season.”
In the past, we might have used older power unit components during Friday practice and then changed them overnight ahead of qualifying on a Saturday, but the new schedule makes such an approach much harder, with parc ferme starting at the start of qualifying on Friday.
That reduces what we can do as a result of what is learned in FP2 on Saturday, but there is still some value to the extra practice running even after qualifying has taken place.
“Technically it is allowed to use a different PU in FP1 and FP2 to the qualifying, sprint and grand prix. But this means we will need to switch PU after FP1 or FP2 which is going to be quite tough considering the time limitations.
“There is not much we can do as basically everything has to be set after FP1. It sounds like there’s no value in FP2 as we cannot change any settings after that, but actually both the team and ourselves can try various things there to understand the behaviour of the car and tyres etc in different conditions to FP1, which will be good a reference to consider for the race strategy.”
That strategy is a little more flexible, too, with teams allowed to choose the tyres they start the Sprint on and also the grand prix itself, rather than having to use the tyres they qualified on in Q2. There are a number of nuances as well as the obvious changes, but dealing with the challenge of additional race mileage and less practice time to prepare is all part of the fun, as Formula 1 looks to provide further entertainment and excitement to our fans.
There will be two more races after Silverstone where the Sprint is trialled - Monza confirmed as one of the venues - and F1’s managing director of motorsports Ross Brawn is excited to see how it is received by new and existing fans alike.
“It expands the content for the weekend, it’s not just about the Sprint,” Brawn says. “We have qualifying now on a Friday afternoon, and so we have a premier event on the Friday, another premier event on the Saturday and then we have the main event on the Sunday. So we have three days of action.
“It’s all about creating more engagement for the whole weekend and having an event on the Saturday which is new and different and none of us know 100% how it will be accepted, how it will be received and how it will develop. But I think Formula 1 has shown itself to be reasonably forward-thinking in taking on board and allowing this event.
“We’re trying it at three races which I think will be enough to assess the success and to iron out any bugs we may have with it. But I think we’re going to give fans on a Saturday afternoon 30-40 minutes of real action. It shouldn’t be influenced by pit stops - I imagine most of the drivers will have the softer end of tyres depending on the track - it will be a pretty straight contest in that respect. The teams won’t have an awful lot to do with the outcome of the Sprint on a Saturday.
“And it’s going to be a chunk of racing that we think will be consumed perhaps by a different group of fans. As well as being interesting and engaging for our existing fans - don’t get me wrong, we don’t want to alienate any of our existing fans - but we’re going to offer up something that we want to see if there’s a new engagement with a new group of fans.
“Half an hour or 40 minutes of racing on a Saturday evening sounds pretty exciting for me.”