JULY 18, 2021

F1 to consider sprint qualifying tweaks for 2022

Dr Helmut Marko had a pointed rebuke after his Mercedes counterpart declared that Lewis Hamilton's Friday pole was a case of "The empire strikes back".

Drivers, British GP 2021
© Alpine

Dr Helmut Marko had a pointed rebuke after his Mercedes counterpart declared that Lewis Hamilton's Friday pole was a case of "The empire strikes back".

"My regards to the empire," Red Bull's Marko said, pointing the quip at Toto Wolff after Max Verstappen extended his points lead over Lewis Hamilton on Saturday.

It was Formula 1's first-ever 'sprint qualifying' at Silverstone - a 17-lap run to the chequered flag that will be trialled over two more race weekends in 2021.

"We're very happy with it," F1 managing director Ross Brawn said.

"One of the things we saw was that drivers are always drivers," he added. "They just don't know how to not race.

"Look at what Fernando Alonso did. I'm ready to watch a show like that every day."

Indeed, the Spaniard wowed the full house at the British GP venue by passing several rivals in his Alpine and even getting a warning for excessively weaving to defend his position.

However, Alonso said he isn't sure if his attacking approach is actually the wisest.

"Today showed that you can lose more than you can win," said the two-time champion. "Look at Perez - he will start from the very back tomorrow. So with extra risk, you might make up one or two positions."

Predictably, the new format raised even more questions among the main protagonists - like the usefulness of the practice session between Friday qualifying and the Saturday sprint.

"According to the regulations, we're not allowed to change anything on the car after qualifying," Sunday pole-sitter Verstappen told Ziggo Sport.

"So what is the use of the other practice session? That doesn't matter anymore."

Verstappen says he even had to do the final practice session knowing that he would be "stuck" with the basic setup decided on Friday.

"Maybe we underestimated how the track would develop," he said. "We didn't expect that much grip and maybe drove with the rear wing too steep."

The Dutchman also said the process of qualifying now feels "strange" - because the Friday 'pole' is only for Saturday's grid order, while the official pole position is only awarded after the sprint race.

"So the usual excitement of qualifying never really happened," said Verstappen. "When I crossed the line today, they were like 'great job, pole position' and you've just done a third of a race distance, so that's a bit odd."

Toto Wolff agrees: "Pole position should be awarded in qualifying, not in the sprint race. And I would have said that even if Lewis wasn't fastest on Friday."

Mercedes' Hamilton, meanwhile, is not expecting Sunday's main race to be much different from the outcome of the sprint.

"It was pretty much the same as the last races," he said. "Just following behind Max.

"It's very hard to follow with these cars, so it wasn't the most exciting race. Hopefully it was for the fans."

Mercedes boss Wolff says he supports sprint qualifying going forward, but not if Formula 1 plans to use the format at each and every race weekend.

"If we do it as a kind of Grand Slam four times a year, then I'm for it," he said. "But maybe we should come up with a solution for Saturday morning so that the viewers understand what we are doing."

Wolff added: "I do think it's pretty good, but instead of doing 17 laps, it could be five or eight laps.

"It would bring the same result because there is not much overtaking after the start because nobody wants to take risks."

Brawn said Formula 1 will consider tweaking the format only after the full 3-round trial is complete in 2021.

"Let's at least wait until after the weekend, see the race and only then do the analysis and talk to the fans to understand whether something needs to be corrected," he said.

"But we are already receiving very positive feedback on social media, and we will also take the other comments into account as well."