Formula One has announced the six races which will stage sprints next season, although the format for those weekends is still being thrashed out with reverse grids still on the table.
China and Miami make their debuts, replacing Azerbaijan and Spa from this year’s sprint line-up.
The format is now the only thing left to decide. It is understood sprint qualifying is almost certain to return to a Friday followed by a sprint on Saturday as well as the main qualifying session for the grand prix.
But everything else – including the possibility of reverse grids – is still up in the air.
Sprint races, shorter events staged over the course of a race weekend, with a handful of championship points on offer, were first introduced in 2021 in an attempt to spice up weekends, effectively offering venues the chance to have three days of competitive running.
Formula One claims they have been a success, with increased viewing figures year on year, especially on Friday compared with regular free practice sessions. But they remain controversial with fans and some drivers.
This season the format saw a few tweaks, with Friday’s qualifying session deciding the grid for Sunday’s main race, as opposed to Saturday’s sprint, as was the case before. There was then a standalone ‘sprint day’ on the Saturday, with a shortened ‘shoot-out’ on Saturday morning, followed by a sprint race in the afternoon.
However, following a meeting of the F1 Commission at the final race of the season in Abu Dhabi last month , it was agreed that the format needed a further revamp as it was not delivering as much entertainment as hoped.
Formula One chief executive Stefano Domenicali said in a statement that new sprint hosts China and Miami would be “fantastic additions and provide great racing for all our fans at the race and watching at home”.
He added: “Since its creation in 2021, the sprint has been consistent in delivering increased audiences on TV, more on-track entertainment for the fans at events and increased fan engagement on social and digital platforms, and we are looking forward to the exciting events next year.”
Meanwhile, it looks increasingly as if Madrid will be awarded the Spanish Grand Prix at the expense of Barcelona, with reports that a 10-year deal from 2026 has been agreed. Discussions have been ongoing for over a year. Madrid last hosted a Formula One race in 1981 at Jarama. The proposed race would take place on a semi-permanent track close to Barajas Airport in the north east of the city.
Sprints here to stay – but reverse grid could spark outrage
While they remain controversial, it does not look as if Formula One is for turning on the subject of sprints. Not even Max Verstappen’s warning via Telegraph Sport a couple of weeks ago that Formula One was at a “tipping point” in terms of putting entertainment before sport can dissuade its stakeholders that they are a bad idea. F1’s owners point to increased television viewing figures and note, too, that promoters see increased sales, particularly on a Friday.
The only question surrounds the format with Red Bull team principal Christian Horner pointing out at the recent Abu Dhabi Grand Prix that at the moment “there’s no pit stop, it tends to stay in grid order and in some ways it feels like it’s getting a medal for a long run…”
It is understood discussions are still ongoing with a final proposal to be submitted to the F1 Commission in January. But it is already pretty much agreed that the sport will go back to having sprint qualifying on a Friday followed by a sprint on Saturday as well as the main qualifying session.
The rest of the weekend could be kept largely as it is, other than tweaks to parc ferme rules. As it stands cars are placed under parc ferme rules after Friday morning’s single free practice session, which means teams are locked into their car set-ups and subject to strict limits on the items they can change for the remainder of the weekend.
A more radical move would be to reverse part of the grid for the sprint, although this would likely trigger outrage among a certain fanbase.
“This is where you’ve got to do the research,” Horner added in Abu Dhabi. “I think fans’ feedback is going to play a crucial role. What is it they want? Do they enjoy the sprint format as it is or do they want to see a bit more racing? If we’re going to do that, how are we going to award points? How are we going to incentivise drivers and teams?”
Whatever is decided, there is an acceptance that the sport needs to stop making endless tweaks, not least so they can get some accurate year-on-year data. That applies to the number of sprint races as well, with six remaining the maximum in the short-term.