Formula 1's sprint qualifying format has its proponents and detractors, but regardless of what you think of it, it certainly introduces a unique challenge for teams. That something we’ve been reminded of this week, as Ferrari principal Mattia Binotto has stated that while the Scuderia has the first round of upgrades for its F1-75 chassis waiting in the wings, it will delay deploying them until the race after Imola’s in two weeks — the Miami Grand Prix on the weekend of May 6.
The reason is simple: Time. Or, more appropriately, a lack of it. Sprint qualifying weekends leave just one hour-long session on Friday for practice. Then it’s straight to the first qualifier, before another practice on Saturday and then the sprint. That’s just not enough time to validate new equipment before the grid’s set. Binotto’s words, via Motorsport.com:
“I think it will be a difficult weekend in respect of bringing updates and trying to evaluate them in the Friday practice, because you need obviously to focus yourself on the quali of the afternoon.
“If we will look at ourselves, there will not be much in Imola because again, we believe it will not be the right place.
“But we will try to mitigate the issues we have got still so far. I’m thinking of the porpoising and the bouncing that has affected our performance over the weekend.
“So we again try to work on that specific point. But, for the upgrades and more, let me say significant ones, it will be for later on in the season.”
Ferrari actually stands to win something this year, so it can’t allow itself to fall behind. At the same time, the F1-75 was so dominant in Australia last weekend with Charles Leclerc at the wheel — and things have gone so terribly for Max Verstappen — that the red team doesn’t need to make any knee-jerk reactions to improve its performance standing over Red Bull and Mercedes right now. It can be a little more patient, a little more deliberate, about how it introduces these enhancements.
Besides, even if Ferrari believes Red Bull holds a straight-line advantage — which is probably debatable — that shouldn’t pose much of a problem at Imola, a high-downforce circuit. Maranello can focus its attention on other more pressing issues in the interim, as Binotto explained. Namely, porpoising.
Porpoising has affected every team to some degree at this early point in the season, presenting differently on each chassis. It hit Carlos Sainz’s car particularly harshly at Melbourne, culminating in a botched overtaking attempt at Turn 9 on Lap 2 of the race that landed the Spaniard beached in a gravel trap, his grand prix over as it barely started.
We’ve seen before how F1's sprint races can spur new concerns and considerations for teams. The risk of additional damage over the course of a weekend due to the sprint was a particular sticking point raised by multiple team leaders last season, given the cost cap. It’s little surprise that few drivers took any chances to increase their grid position in those shortened races last year. Now, the sprint will prompt Ferrari and likely others to play it safe with regard to development in San Marino, and you can’t blame them.