Formula 1 has had two sprint race qualifiers so far: one at Silverstone and another at Monza. The next one will be at Interlagos in Brazil in November. The first attempt was a little more amusing than the latest, as the Italian Grand Prix sprint was pretty much a procession from the moment the lights turned green. And Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff says you can expect the next one to go down that way too, because the concept inherently discourages exciting racing.
That’s no secret, of course — on paper, racing hard on sprint Saturday doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, something many people predicted well before the British Grand Prix. You only get three points for first, two for second and one for third, and the appeal of starting Sunday’s race a few grid spots higher plainly isn’t worth the risk of destroying your car ahead of the big day while jockeying for position.
For all those reasons, I’m in no way surprised to hear Wolff’s doubts about the experiment — but I do find them highly entertaining.
First of all, he just seems utterly bewildered by the whole format, which in and of itself is amusing because I assume Toto Wolff to be one of if not the most organized and methodical humans on this planet. I’d hire him to be my life coach, if only I could afford him. From Motorsport.com:
“First of all, everybody’s confused,” Wolff said. “I don’t know how it is with you, I don’t even know what session is when.
That’s not an encouraging start, but then Wolff unpacks the issues:
“I believe the sprint race format as it stands at the moment, doesn’t give a lot of benefit because nobody will take a serious risk.
“There’s too little points at stake and the risk of compromising your Sunday grand prix, with points all the way back to 10th position, is just not worth the risk.
“So, what we’ve seen is a combination of general difficulties in overtaking because the straight-line speeds are very similar, but also because, even Turn 1 and 2, nobody takes a risk.”
He is, however, hopeful that the next go-around will deliver the thrills and garner the eyeballs F1's been angling for:
“I think let’s give it another try in Brazil, let’s see if anything changes, but that was a worthwhile experiment and for me, and this is just a personal opinion or the opinion of my engineers here, it’s not fish, not meat,” he explained.
Perhaps by the time we get to Brazil — one of the final rounds of the year — teams and their drivers will be a little more emboldened to fight hard on Saturday, to scrape up every point and grid spot they can in the waning weeks of the championship battle. The tricky and twisty Interlagos also has a propensity to deliver some drama, so perhaps that’ll work in fans’ favor too. Let’s remain optimistic in the face of confusion like our pal Toto.