F1 enters the final Sprint event of the season at the São Paulo Grand Prix with the sport still remaining undecided on the success of the format.
Trials were held at three races in 2021 before a format tweak was made for last season, whilst the current campaign had three extra Sprints added to the schedule and another change to the format.
After three years of discovery, should the Sprints stay or go?
There is no doubt that, in theory, the Sprint format brings more excitement than a normal weekend.
Two practice sessions are replaced by two separate qualifying sessions and followed by a 100km race on the Saturday afternoon which is, of course, far more enticing for those watching.
A critical change this season was to introduce the second qualifying session – the Sprint Shootout – to create a Saturday separated from the main Grand Prix. This decision ensured any excitement generated from a mixed-up grid set on Friday was not undone during the Sprint.
At some circuits, the Sprint has been successful – Qatar provided an exciting spectacle and this weekend’s venue has been given a Sprint all three years such has been the level of racing achieved.
However, it’s not been completely rosy for the format…
Other events have had rather lacklustre Sprints on Saturdays, not least the recent United States Grand Prix.
In these races, it feels as though a major clue is being given out as to how cars will perform on long runs ahead of the main event and take away the nervous energy all fans generate before lights out.
Then there is the long-standing argument of whether it is artificially generating excitement and, whilst this can be argued either way, the most hardcore fan demographic will always hold this against the format. What doesn’t help is the fact Max Verstappen secured his title on a Saturday this season, which left a sour taste for many.
Teams use practice sessions to tune their cars into an optimum performance window ahead of qualifying and the race each weekend and with such a level of detail, this is how gaps are often reduced between each team on the timesheets.
But with only one practice hour on a Sprint weekend, set-up errors are often made and this can lead to large gaps between teams, only contributing to more dour races rather than creating excitement – this is why calls have been made to relax parc fermé rules.
Opinion is very much divided on the subject, with some drivers backing the format and others – namely Verstappen – strongly against it.
Ultimately though, as Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner indicated in Austin, the point of the Sprints was to stimulate the watching public and as such, it must come down to the fans’ opinion as to whether the format should continue next season, or whether further changes should be made.