F1 drivers look ahead to ‘weird’ Sprint Qualifying format

Teams on the grid at last year’s British Grand Prix

Drivers are heading into the Formula 1 British Grand Prix with cautious optimism as they face the first ever Sprint Qualifying session.

A single 60-minute practice session precedes a traditional hot lapping qualifying session on Friday, after which cars enter parc ferme conditions.

That qualifying session will then set the grid for Saturday afternoon’s Sprint Qualifying, in which drivers will have free choice of tyre.

The outcome of that 30-minute race will set the grid for Sunday’s race, with the top three finishers receiving world championship points (three for the win down to one for third place).

The first placed finisher of Saturday’s Sprint Qualifying will also be formally acknowledged as the pole winner, receive a modernised wreath, and paraded around the circuit in a celebration akin to that used in decades past.

“It’s going to be a bit weird,” said four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel.

“We only went down to one hour practice sessions [this season], which I think in the end I quite like it because there’s less hanging around in the garage and there’s just more action on track.

“But now obviously there will only be one hour and that’s it straight into qualifying. You have to be straight on it right from the start.

“Should be exciting. I mean, it’s something new, something new can be always exciting. We’ll see how it turns out.”

The additional focus on the opening practice session proved a common theme among drivers, who are also wrestling with where to draw the line on Saturday afternoon.

“For the [Sprint Qualifying] race, you try to win it. It’s three points extra you can gain, so you definitely try to win it,” said Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.

“Even though of course you know that on a Sunday that’s the most important race.”

Having twice qualified on pole position during the 2021 season, Charles Leclerc agrees that there is additional emphasis on the opening hour of running.

“FP1 will be crucial I think, [it] will be pretty busy,” he opined.

“But very, very important to try and understand the car, try to do the last setup work before qualifying and then that’s it, you get to stay with that car for the rest of the weekend.

“So it’s very important how we prepare the weekend.

“I think it’s one of our strengths, though. We are very good at preparing the car and be there.

“Normally we don’t change so much the car there so hopefully we can take advantage of that and have a good weekend.”

The most experienced driver in F1 history, Kimi Raikkonen has outlived a number of alternate qualifying strategies, including aggregated, knockout, and two-part systems.

Given that experience, in his typical candour, the Finn isn’t expecting much in the way of an upset.

“It can go any direction, so I don’t see that this is beneficial for one day more than others,” he said.

“Honestly, wherever you put the car starting on Sunday, I think the fastest cars will be there in the front at the end of the race.

“We’ve seen it over and over the years with all kinds of qualifying, different qualifying formats.

“Sometimes when we had a one lap qualifying there was a rain for one car then better weather for others, but come end of the race the fast cars will always be in the front.”

Opening practice in Silverstone gets underway tonight at 23:30 AEST, with the traditional knock-out qualifying session to follow at 03:00 AEST on Saturday morning.

Formula 1’s first Sprint Qualifying session at 01:30 AEST on Sunday morning.

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