Revealed: What every F1 driver thinks of the new sprint format
With significant changes made to the format of F1 sprint weekends, each driver was naturally asked about what they make of the updates.
While most drivers showed their support for the changes, which effectively give the shortened 100km sprints their own standalone day of a race weekend on Saturdays, there were some notable exceptions – long-time sprint critic Max Verstappen included.
As was the case last year, Friday will see FP1 and qualifying take place, but qualifying will form the grid for Sunday’s race, meaning the sprint no longer has any bearing on the grid positions for the Grand Prix in its own right.
Instead, a separate shorter qualifying session, or ‘Sprint Shootout’ will take place on Saturday morning, using the same Q1/Q2/Q3 format but in a shortened timeframe, before the sprint on Saturday afternoon and the race as planned on Sunday.
Baku will see the first test of this new format, and here is what the drivers thought of it when they spoke to the media in Azerbaijan ahead of the weekend.
[Drivers’ words from FIA press conferences unless stated]
Max Verstappen: “I don’t really see it being a lot different than what it was in the previous sprint weekend. I think there will be a little bit more chaos around because of the extra qualifying but this track anyway is normally quite chaotic so this will only make it a little bit more chaotic.
“I think a good option would anyway be to shorten the weekend a bit, because some people love racing and they will do it forever but it also needs to be healthy as well – at one point you start questioning that.” [Sky Sports F1]
Sergio Perez:“Let’s see how it goes. I just feel like there are places where you can bring this sprint format. Baku, generally, the racing is great just with the standard format, so probably there are races where we need to be more selective with the races where we need to improve things. But yeah, let’s see.
“I really don’t have a strong opinion. I think it puts a lot of emphasis to have a very solid FP1, and then from that onwards, we’ll see, every session becomes really important. But at the end of the day, I think Sunday is a priority for everyone.”
Charles Leclerc: “It’s going to be a very, very difficult weekend – if not the most difficult of the year. Having the sprint weekend this weekend, having only one free practice session before qualifying on a street track, after three weeks’ break is going to be challenging, but I’m looking forward to it.” [F1 TV]
Carlos Sainz: “I think the format is a bit different to last year. So we’ll create a bit of a different weekend format to us, a bit of a different approach. But in the end, we’re racing every lap that we will do will be competitive like always, so I welcome it.
“I think more racing, more important laps in the weekend. Obviously tougher both mentally and physically for us, but if it makes the fans happy and people in the media happy and it makes the product better, we will do it.”
Lewis Hamilton: “Absolutely [I welcome it]. I think it is going to be tough for everybody, but we’re all in the same boat, and what a track to be at to do it, where overtaking as possible. Great racing here. We always have mostly the best races here. It’s definitely difficult to just have one session where you probably get like 20 laps and then straight away you have to qualify, but that’s what we’re here to do, right?”
George Russell: “We’re going from two out of the five sessions being a competition to now four out of the five being a competition. It’s not the easiest track in the world to have a format like this, track is going to be dirty in practice, which makes it quite irrelevant.
“They’ve resurfaced the track in half the corners, which will have a massive change on the tyres. So again, that’s another unknown, but it’s the same for everyone. So we’ll go in with an open mind and try and maximise it.” [Sky Sports F1]
Esteban Ocon: “It’s exciting. It’s cool to have more racing, [a] more exciting weekend, but maybe not every weekend. That would be something to look out for.
“On the other hand, I think as a driver, it’s great that you go straight into that sprint shootout qualifying without practice before, because that could bring some uncertainty, some drivers that are not going to be awake, are gonna make mistakes and it’s not gonna be the same. So we’ll see. That that brings opportunities and brings skills to the driver, more importantly, so I look forward to that.”
Pierre Gasly: “We have an interesting format to get through and it’s going to be all about staying alive in both races and capitalising on any opportunities that might come up. I’ve had past success in Baku from just keeping it clean and taking chances – including in 2021 for my latest podium in Formula 1. You just never know in Baku… anything can happen.” [Alpine Azerbaijan GP preview]
Lando Norris: “I think the revised structure, I prefer. I don’t want to have a sprint race every single weekend, I think it’s still important to have what we’ve had for many years.
“I think that’s what makes Formula 1 exciting and cool, I love just having the Saturday quali and the Sunday race, but I think every now and then having the sprint races is good for the fans, good for the people watching. I think [it’s] exciting to change things every now and then a little bit for us [too].”
Oscar Piastri: “We’ve been doing a lot of work in the simulator to ensure we hit the ground running on Friday, especially given the sprint format, which I’m looking forward to taking on for the first time in Formula 1. I’ll be hoping to build on the momentum from Australia where I achieved my first-ever F1 points.” [McLaren Azerbaijan GP preview]
Valtteri Bottas: “I like the fact that it straight into action, just one practice, but it becomes obviously more and more valuable and every day has a session that really matters and Saturday is a proper day. But like Carlos said, it’s definitely more demanding mentally, maybe even physically, because you need to be switched on for the whole weekend.”
Zhou Guanyu: “It’s going to be a completely new format for the drivers, for the teams to experience again, but it definitely seems to be more exciting than the old one, that’s for sure.” [F1 TV]
Fernando Alonso: “Obviously the new format of the weekend is extremely complex for a driver, especially on Saturday morning. First time you go in the car, you tighten the belts and you’re into Q1, so that will be a new thing for all of us and enough to think [about].
“I went to the simulator last week and I tried to replicate what the weekend was and tried to see the challenges, and we will try to pay more attention. I think we will come earlier into the track tomorrow make sure that FP1 is as simple as possible and as clear as possible, and on Saturday, as I said, it’s a new thing for everyone, but we will try to do our job.”
Lance Stroll: “I think it’s exciting for everybody, keeps everyone on their toes all weekend. There’s not much time to get into the groove and get the car in a happy place where you want it. So I think it’s fun, it’s going be exciting for the fans too, which is great.”
Kevin Magnussen: “It’s more exciting, there’s more stuff happening – not that a normal weekend is boring in any way – but there’s a lot of running that doesn’t count for anything and having most of the sessions in the weekend be counting for something, I think is cool.”
Nico Hulkenberg: “It’s the first sprint for me and obviously from a spectator’s point of view it’s very interesting. For me also it’s much less practice, only one hour, and straight into a meaningful session – it reminds me of my junior days – and I used to like that. I go into it with an open mind just accepting the challenge, which is less preparation time, and you need to hit the sweet spot earlier. Baku is a pretty spectacular and challenging high-speed circuit so we’re gearing up for a tough but interesting weekend.” [Haas Azerbaijan GP preview]
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Nyck de Vries: “Baku will be my very first Sprint weekend and that will be particularly challenging with just one hour of free practice before qualifying, but I’ve been to the track before, with three second place finishes in Formula 2. We’re all excited to go racing again after this long break.” [AlphaTauri Azerbaijan ‘Grand Prixview’]
Yuki Tsunoda: “It’s definitely exciting and especially Saturday, just when you wake up and have breakfast and straight to qualifying, which is like you have to be awake for qualifying. So that’s really exciting and I can’t wait.”
Alex Albon: “I think especially for midfield teams, there’s a bit more going on and I think, on Friday, there’s maybe some teams that won’t get it perfect – and that’s good for us.
“I think it creates opportunity for some others to get on the pace early, and I think we welcome that. It’s a good change from the original sprint race format where obviously it would sometimes filter out the differences in qualifying. This is a good way to do it.”
Logan Sargeant: “I think the new format’s definitely better than the old sprint format, in my opinion. From a personal point of view, to have two opportunities to have qualifying and two races is huge for me to keep learning and building upon that foundation. I’m looking forward to it.” [F1 TV]
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