Get Ready For Formula 1 Reversed-Grid Qualifying Sprint Races—Perhaps Coming As Soon As Next Year
Formula 1 is making the latest of its—familiar and persistent—attempts to ‘spice up the show’. It is pursuing the idea of its races’ starting orders being decided by a ‘sprint’ race the day before, which itself would have a starting grid in reversed-championship order, meaning haughty figures like Lewis Hamilton having to fight from the back. This would replace the usual qualifying session against the watch.
While initial suggestions that this change was a done deal for 2020 turned out to be false, the move is indeed being promoted internally by F1’s bosses and being discussed at length by F1’s stakeholders. The latest word is that F1 is aiming to trial the reversed-grid qualifying ‘sprint’ race for real at some rounds next season, with the Paul Ricard round in France, Belgium’s Spa round and Russia’s event at Sochi as hosts.
Several factors are reported to have gone into the selection of these races, such as dull races there in the recent past as well as ensuring there are enough races prior to the first trial run to establish a settled championship order and enough races after the last trial to ensure it won’t have a direct impact on the championship. The sprint races would fill the usual Saturday qualifying slot, drivers would have a free choice of tire compounds for the start and there would not be compulsory pitstops.
The concept of multiple races within a weekend, including a reversed-grid ‘sprint’ race, is far from unheard of in motorsport, indeed F1’s two main supporting feeder events—Formula 2 and Formula 3—have something like that. And the benefits seem obvious, with faster cars coming through the pack creating plenty of wheel-to-wheel action.
But still there have been criticisms of the proposed move from F1’s drivers, mainly on the grounds of it being a ‘sticking plaster’ that doesn’t deal with the main causes of F1’s shortfall in race excitement, such as aerodynamics, tire sensitivity and money distribution. Grand Prix Drivers’ Association director Romain Grosjean said “100% of drivers” take the view “that the problem is not the way the weekends are, the problems are bigger than that.” Sebastian Vettel went further and called the change “bullshit”.
Other more broad criticism is that the current qualifying format is popular and exciting; some also say the move is against F1’s ‘DNA’. Teams also are concerned about likely increased costs from extra damage and needing extra spares. Front-running teams which have done simulations say there would likely be fewer order changes than in a usual grand prix with that starting order, given the lack of pitstops plus all cars would probably start on the same tire compound.
It’s understood that even if the trialed qualifying races prove successful they would not be used at all grands prix, so presumably rounds such as Monaco, where on-track overtaking is nearly impossible, would not be included.
A change for as soon as next season would under the regulations require unanimous agreement among the teams, and it’s reckoned that more than one team is opposed. However introducing it for the year after—2021 which long has been trumpeted as the scene of F1’s ‘new era’—would not need to clear such a bar, so the change may just be moved back by 12 months.
Liberty and governing body the FIA appear highly enthusiastic and have been lobbying stakeholders intensely to get behind the trials. So expect reversed-grid F1 qualifying races sometime soon, as an experiment in some rounds at least, and if not for next year then the one after.