Sprint Qualifying forces rethink for F1 teams
By Mat Coch
Tuesday 13th July, 2021 - 7:17am
This weekend’s Formula 1 British Grand Prix brings with it the introduction of Sprint Qualifying for the first time in the sport’s more than seven-decade history.
A revised weekend format leaves teams just an hour of practice before heading into a traditional hot lapping style elimination qualifying session on Friday afternoon.
Saturday begins with a second hour of practice ahead of Sprint Qualifying itself, the starting order for which is set by Friday afternoon’s qualifying session.
The British Grand Prix itself then follows largely as normal on Sunday, though drivers will enjoy free choice of tyres, as they did for Saturday afternoon’s Sprint Qualifying session.
That has led McLaren team principal Andreas Seidl to equate the new qualifying format to a red flag in the early part of a race.
His comments were made after he was asked if teams would change the way they set up their cars given the increased focus on qualifying over the weekend.
“From my point of view, I don’t think so,” Seidl said.
“You still have to qualify on Friday, which is as important as now the qualifying and Saturday [is].
“To be honest, the Sprint Qualifying that we are doing, and the race afterwards then with the parc ferme in between, I see it a bit like a red flag after 30 minutes, which [we’ve] experienced many, many times where you can also not touch the car.”
While car setup is unlikely to change much, how teams go about using the reduced track time will.
Practice sessions this year have already seen 90 minutes’ worth of running trimmed versus last season.
With this weekend’s event set to feature just two Free Practice sessions, it leaves teams no more than 120 minutes in which to dial in their cars for both qualifying and the race – and only 60 minutes before qualifying as it’s been known.
“It doesn’t really change anything other than thinking about how we’re going to quickly adapt to a different weekend for that,” explained James Key, McLaren’s technical director.
“I think it’s the format of the time you’ve got, which is going to be the biggest difference, technically.
“There’ll be more prep work, I think on setup.
“There will certainly be a lot more pre-event simulation work to work out how a sprint race could affect various scenarios that could pan out and how sprint race could affect how things go forward after that.
“Hitting a qualifying session much earlier as well, of course, so really only have an hour to prepare for that and how we treat it.
“You’ve got the split between high fuel running and working out your tyres for the Sunday race and, and trying to get your lower fuel, fresh tyre kind of feeling for the car and as well.
“From a technical perspective, it is about preparation simulation and using your time smartly.
“That’s something we’re all going to have to learn but be very well prepared for.”
Free Practice 1 for the British Grand Prix gets underway at 23:30 AEST on Friday, with Qualifying to follow at 03:00 on Saturday morning.