Formula 1: Are qualifying races right for the sport?

Formula 1 (Photo by ANDREW BOYERS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Formula 1 (Photo by ANDREW BOYERS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images) /

For the first time since the failed elimination qualifying in 2016, qualifying will have a revised format for the 2021 Formula 1 season.

After much talk about reverse grids and sprint races over the last couple of years, Formula 1 will feature qualifying races for select races this season in what is the biggest change to the qualifying format at the pinnacle of motorsport since 2006.

The proposed format will see cars compete in a qualifying session on Friday afternoon to set the starting grid for the sprint qualifying race on Saturday, which will last approximately 30 minutes and will determine the starting grid for Sunday’s Grand Prix.

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Points will be awarded for the sprint qualifying races: three points for the winner, two for the second place finisher and one for the third place finisher.

New Formula 1 Chief Executive Stefano Domenicali told the Daily Mail that Silverstone Circuit will host a sprint race for the British Grand Prix while the Italian Grand Prix at Autodromo Nazionale di Monazo, the Brazilian Grand Prix at Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace and the Canadian Grand Prix at Circuit Giles Villeneuve are all in the running to land the other two.

Domenciali said the following.

"“We are finalizing the intricacies of it. For sure we do not want to take away the prestige of the Grand Prix itself. That will remain the climax of the weekend. We will have qualifying on Friday and then ‘sprint qualifying’ on Saturday.“It will provide some meaningful action the day before the race. It will give fans, media and broadcasters more content. It will last about half an hour. There will be no podium celebration. That will wait until Sunday.”"

This development will be both exciting and infuriating to Formula 1 fans in equal measure. To some, it will be a plus because it will provide racing on two days instead of one, plus a condensed qualifying session on Friday.

However, to some, it will dilute the sense of anticipation and excitement for the race on Sunday.

In addition, it has been criticized by some as a temporary fix to try to spice up the action after seven straight seasons in which Mercedes have won both the driver and constructor championships.

Motorsport commentator Ben Evans captured the mood of some in his tweet quite aptly.

It has been earmarked for three events this season to see how the format works and if it could be used for every race beginning in 2022.

Formula 1 Managing Director Ross Brawn said the following.

"“We want this opportunity to try it at three races this year. If it doesn’t work, we’ll put our hands up and go away and think about it again. But I’m quite optimistic about it and if you take the view of the whole weekend then it’s got a lot going for it.”"

With that being said, another consideration has to be when to hold regular qualifying on a Friday. Most people will be at work on Friday, so it would restrict those who would be able to watch all three major sessions across the weekend.

Changes could be made to try to maximize the audience and to bring in new fans as well as to preserve the existing global fanbase.

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While the proposed format has drawn widespread criticism, it is worth noting that the last time qualifying was changed in any meaningful way was in 2006, and after many years of the same Q1, Q2, Q3 format, it needs changing.

The sprint qualifying races are definitely worth trying this year, but if they do not work in the way the sport’s bosses hope, it is important that we do something other than resort to the current format in 2022 in order to keep all parts of the weekend fresh and exciting for fans, new and old.

There was horror last year from Mercedes when the prospect of reverse-grid qualifying races was raised because any changes are always bad for the team at the top, which is exactly why we need to keep changing these formats. It helps keep the sport fresh, allows new talent to grow and provides exciting races in new ways.

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2021 promises to be an exciting season off the back of preseason testing, where Mercedes looked to have a sketchy car while Red Bull and McLaren appeared to have taken a step forward, but these sprint races could just maybe be an added gem as we look forward to the start of the season.