Ross Brawn has either genuinely forgotten what it’s like to run a Formula 1 team during a race weekend, or he’s choosing to forget.
F1’s managing director of motorsports is the front man for the new sprint race format that makes its debut at this weekend’s British Grand Prix.
Understandably, that means it’s his job to manage the message in the build up to the event, and to help build as much hype and excitement around the trial as possible.
But you’ve got to wonder if Brawn truly believes every word when he tries to deflect suggestions that teams and drivers won’t treat the Saturday sprint race as the flat-out dash for a grid position that it’s being promoted as.
“Racing drivers will race each other in a supermarket car park with shopping trolleys,” Brawn recently told the media, including The Race’s Scott Mitchell.
“It’s their nature that they want to beat each other and there’s nothing worse for them than to be beaten by somebody, even if you could argue the sprint is only the precursor to the main event, the race.
“I think they will be desperate to beat each other and show who is the fastest, who is the strongest, etc.”
Brawn should know better than that. I’d bet that deep down, he does know better. But he’s got to stay on message.
He’s admitted “we have to find out if people hold back and they’re conservative because they don’t want to risk the weekend”, but he’s pinning his hopes on someone deciding to “be the catalyst” by going all out on the Saturday and creating a chain reaction that makes other drivers more aggressive too.
Brawn wanted F1 to try something more adventurous than what we’ll get at Silverstone, but the sprint format was the best idea F1 management could get past the teams.
When the most radical format was put forward – a reverse-grid qualifying race – Brawn said F1 “got our fingers bitten off” by the teams.
There’s a hope within F1 that the three-weekend trial of this format in 2021 could open the door to more things being given a chance in the future. Even if the sprint format disappoints, if it leads to something else in the future, that’s a positive.
Brawn is asking everyone to wait until they’ve seen the new format in action before writing it off. The aim of having something significant happening on each day of a GP weekend is a good one. But right now it feels like it would be a pleasant surprise if the sprint races really shake things up.
Can you really imagine the dominant Ferrari powerhouse of the early-2000s, led by Brawn and Jean Todt, doing anything other than regularly reminding their drivers that the sprint race wasn’t when the real prizes were handed out?
F1 teams tightly manage every tiny detail of a race weekend, especially when the cars are on track. Is there any real reason that the Saturday race will be any different?
Drivers aren’t going to be let off the leash entirely and allowed to drive flat out from start to finish, taking huge risks along the way. Nor are they suddenly going to forget all the advice and race management they’ll receive from the pits about managing pace, tyres and fuel.
There won’t be any mandatory pitstops in the sprint, but Pirelli isn’t bringing a special tyre that can be raced flat out for 100-kilometres without wearing or overheating. As far as we know, there isn’t a mandated starting fuel load, so if the teams think there’s a weight benefit to under-fuelling the cars as they often do on Sundays, the drivers will have to claim that back at some point with some pace management too.
F1 teams are too good at managing risk vs reward. The opportunity presented by a sprint race in qualifying order that sets the grid for a full grand prix the following day isn’t going to entice them into throwing out all best laid plans.
As Brawn would have told his drivers when he was on the pit wall, the aim will be to get through it in one piece, and not compromise yourself for Sunday.