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Formula 1

Steiner’s F-word column: Don’t judge sprint races on TV numbers

by Jack Benyon
5 min read

In the latest of his regular columns for The Race, Haas Formula 1 team principal Guenther Steiner shares his thoughts on Formula 1’s sprint race qualifying format. 

Hello everyone, it’s good to be back with another column, especially as the races are now coming thick and fast.

It was won’t be long until one of these races has the new sprint qualifying format. I think it’s right that we should try it, it might be a good thing, we don’t know yet. The easiest way to find out is to do it.

If it works, fantastic, then we can have some races where we have it and others not to mix it up a bit if we get to 25 races. If it doesn’t work we need to be brave enough to say it didn’t work and stop it but at least we tried. Otherwise, the debate will go on forever.

Its success cannot just be judged on viewing numbers, it has to be on how the weekend goes. All of the people who work in F1 will have an opinion about it. Because it’s new the viewing numbers will be good – so we shouldn’t be blinded by that. Everyone will have a good feeling about if it works or not, if it adds to the excitement of F1 or not, the viewing numbers will give us a direction, but we should not only be led by them.

Looking back at the races we’ve already had I wouldn’t jump to the conclusion that the competitive order has been changed just because of this low rake, high rake thing. It could also be due to how people worked through last year, but we will never know if we had kept the regulations from last year it wouldn’t have mixed up the order as well.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Portuguese Grand Prix Practice Day Portimao, Portugal

For us even if we hadn’t changed the rules nothing would have changed. Our development was so minimal, it was just adapting the new rules to it. For sure it hasn’t taken us forward but neither has it for a lot of people.

Our performance is nothing that wasn’t expected. It isn’t a nice position but it is what it is. We are where we said we would be, so at least that stacks up – we know something!

If the car had been quick that would have been completely unexpected. Now the challenge is to keep everybody motivated and be ready when we have a better car. And I think the people who are working on next year’s car are very motivated, the race team is motivated because we know there is a lot more to come from our young drivers, we just need to work through this, keep positive, and look forward to the better times that are coming.

Having the two rookies has changed a little bit about how we approach the weekends. If you look at how we run FP1 and FP2 and even qualifying, we try to give them as much track time as possible, and that sometimes means we are on a different programme to the other teams.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Portuguese Grand Prix Practice Day Portimao, Portugal

We know what we can achieve and what we cannot so we have to maximise their experience over the weekend. It’s only three hours of practice plus qualifying and the race and the best way to learn is by doing it, so they need to do as many laps as possible.

We know that wind is not good for this car and we saw that in Bahrain – it reacts very badly to the wind as it changes the balance and makes it lose grip. Of course, there are better cars out there, but it’s also part of the learning and knowing how far to push the limit and our drivers aren’t the only ones who are spinning and having offs – Tsunoda-san has had a few offs too. The fact is that making mistakes is part of learning.

The spin aside, everything Mick did in Imola was pretty solid. Qualifying was a good effort especially in the circumstances and that it’s only his second race. He knows he’s got something to learn and I think this transitional year gives him a good platform to learn a lot of those things without having the pressure of the ultimate performance.

For sure there’s pressure, there’s always pressure in F1, but I think he deals well with it and he’s very clear in his mind what he wants to get out of this year, and I think it helps him not to have a car that’s in the competitive midfield where the driver can really make the difference. Coming straight from F2 you can’t do that against guys with years and years of experience.

We had a good test in Bahrain with Nikita and we came in quite confident but during the race weekend with all the wind he got a little bit destabilised and had a few spins and then the race didn’t really happen for him because he spun on the first lap and that meant coming to Imola he was already on backfoot.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Emilia Romagna Grand Prix Race Day Imola, Italy

In Imola he had quite a solid practice, after the spin at the end of FP1 he decided he just needed to take a little step back and that’s what he did and after that, he did all the laps he needed to do. I think he’s realised that the best way to learn this car is by running in it as much as possible.

He’s under a lot of pressure from outside and he’s trying to keep his head up, but it’s not easy. He’s only 22 and as much as he might think it doesn’t do anything to me it’s never nice to be critiqued left, right and centre. What we need to do is help him to overcome it, to get stronger. We can’t shield him from it, we need to help him to grow into somebody who hasn’t got to deal with this stuff in the future.

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