Formula 1

Sideshow or success? Our verdict on F1’s first sprint shootout

by Matt Beer
6 min read

Formula 1 has held its first-ever sprint shootout qualifying session, with the shortened Saturday morning session to decide the grid for the sprint making its debut in Baku this weekend.

It was certainly a more intense and meaningful start to Saturday, and it did produce a slightly different grid.

But was it a success? Here are our writers’ immediate thoughts:

A disconnected sideshow

Edd Straw

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Azerbaijan Grand Prix Sprint Day Baku, Azerbaijan

A short, sharp ‘sprint shootout’ session was clearly significantly more appealing than the FP2 sessions we’ve seen on the previous sprint weekends. But there’s still the feeling that it is not differentiated enough from regular qualifying.

While it’s fascinating to have a repeat qualifying session held at a different time of day with higher track temperatures by way of comparison, it still feels more like a lower-impact echo of yesterday’s session than a massive deal in its own right.

Perhaps that’s a consequence of F1 moving towards what I’d characterised as a ‘lower stakes’ revised sprint format with Saturday effectively a standalone mini-GP event. But the stakes of the weekend ideally should build continually to the grand prix itself, and this felt a step backwards from last night’s session.

Overall, sprint weekends deliver on producing more sessions with something at stake and compared to the orthodox FP1-FP2-FP3 structure this offers a lot more.

But it feels a step back from the old sprint format in terms of the build-up through qualifying on Friday, the sprint setting the grand prix grid on Saturday and the race of Sunday.

So there are pluses and minuses to this. The mini-session was gripping enough, but there’s still the underlying feeling that because of the disconnection from what happens on Friday and Sunday it’s more sideshow than part of the main event and therefore potentially more take-it-or-leave it than must-see for fans beyond the hardcore.

F1’s now asking too much of fans

Glenn Freeman

Img 7101

I didn’t watch it. I’m all for more meaningful sessions and less practice, but there’s a point where life gets in the way and there can be too much to follow. And if something’s got to give to make sure you can watch qualifying-proper on Friday, plus the two races (and two MotoGP races this weekend too) then F1 sprint qualifying is the one that doesn’t make the cut.

This isn’t a criticism. I’m not demanding F1 tailors its weekends to the amount of time I have available (when I’m not on a shift for The Race!). If the viewing figures are good in future weekends using this format – once the novelty has passed – then great, that means fans with more spare time are getting more of what they want.

Maybe if the format of the sprint qualifying session was more of a departure from main qualifying it would feel must-watch. But I didn’t even bother trying to make the case at home that I needed to turn Care Bears off the TV to watch a slightly shorter version of something I’d seen the day before.

An improvement, but maybe diminishing returns

Dre Harrison

Xpb 1201127 Hires

The sprint shootout was… fine. It’s hard for the series to mess up qualifying too much, I’d argue it’s already the best part of an F1 weekend under normal circumstances, so a shorter, even more intense version of it was pretty foolproof. And it’s certainly an improvement over a parc ferme FP2 session.

It’ll be interesting to see if an eight-minute SQ3 wasn’t an aggressive enough timing cut due to the ability to take a cool-down lap between two ‘runs’ and the organisation of the session needs work if we can’t get 10 cars on track at the end (it had echoes of the V8-era tyre-saving vibes).

Overall, I think this is an improvement. But I’m not going to lie to you readers, I already feel a bit burnt out with the excessive meaningful action. Is there a law of diminishing returns on this amount of intensity?

An easy win

Scott Mitchell-Malm

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Azerbaijan Grand Prix Sprint Day Baku, Azerbaijan

I’m on-site, so I don’t need to worry about trying to follow the action, which is a luxury that I appreciate not everybody watching at home can afford – and is something that has to be factored in when judging how effective this format can be.

But the qualifying element of this felt like an inevitable upgrade from what existed before. It’s much better than watching a practice session. And it is a higher-jeopardy version of the existing format (which has proven to be pretty good for a long time) because there is a single set of a mandated compound to be used in Q1 and Q2 and barely any time to get it right.

My point is that this was always going to be the easiest ‘win’ of the new format. So it was perfectly decent from my perspective.

One element I was curious to judge was whether I felt like the weekend lost any of its normal rhythm. It has, because it feels more disjointed than before. But at least there was enough intrigue and enough at stake to follow the session with interest when it was actually on.

I don’t think we’ll get a vastly different sprint race in this new format, though. It’ll be a race, it’ll probably be fine (maybe it’ll be better than that) but the quality of it won’t stand or fall on whether the grid was set yesterday or this morning.

Enjoyable but it didn’t change much

Gary Anderson

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Azerbaijan Grand Prix Sprint Day Baku, Azerbaijan

I think the easiest way to sum it up is – what’s the difference between the main event qualifying and the sprint race qualifying and does it add anything to the show?

As far as the session was concerned I actually enjoyed it. Yes, it was just F1 cars running around a tricky circuit but at least there was a purpose behind it all.

I have marked the cars in the top 10 that have improved their grid position for the sprint race relative to where they qualified for the main race in bold.

Qualifying (soft) SQ1 (medium) SQ2 (medium) SQ3 (soft)
Leclerc Leclerc Verstappen Leclerc
Verstappen Verstappen Leclerc. Perez
Perez Hamilto Sainz. Verstappen
Sainz Sainz Perez. Russell
Hamilton Russell Alonso Sainz
Alonso Alonso Hamilton Hamilton
Norris Perez Russell Albon
Tsunoda Stroll Stroll Alonso
Stroll Norris Albon Stroll
Piastri Albon Norris Norris
Russell Sargeant Piastri
Ocon Magnussen Hulkenberg
Albon Piastri Ocon
Bottas Ocon Magnussen
Sargeant Hulkenberg Sargeant
Zhou Zhou
Hulkenberg Bottas
Magnussen Tsunoda
Gasly Gasly
De Vries De Vries

I think it’s the comments that we will receive from our readers that will really define if this new weekend procedure is a success or not.

For Logan Sargeant the crash that caused the red flag in SQ1 was the last thing Williams needed. That simply puts him and the team on the back foot for the rest of the event, which now consists of two races.

Still too long

Matt Beer

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Azerbaijan Grand Prix Sprint Day Baku, Azerbaijan

I like the idea of a separate qualifying session for the sprint and it taking place at a very different time of day in terms of the variety it might add to a weekend, and this was a much better use of time than the old FP-pointless that ran between qualifying and the sprints in 2021/22.

But for me it wasn’t quite different enough. Slash a couple more minutes off each segment so it’s getting closer to one-shot territory but there’s still enough time to not make it just one big traffic calamity, and F1 might be onto something decent.

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