Few details have been released about how the sprint races will work other than they will be held over 100kms, which at both Silverstone and Monza equates to around 17 laps. The top three finishers will earn points on a 3-2-1 basis.
The cars then go into a full parc fermé, just as they do now after qualifying. Weight distribution can be altered, and cooling inlets adjusted if the FIA officially declares that there’s been a change in ambient conditions before the race. Sunday runs as normal, except that the grid is formed in the sprint race finishing order, and there’s no requirement that the top 10 must start on the tyres they ran in Q2 and so on.
That rule has become obsolete anyway since the quickest drivers began to consistently get through Q2, and start the race, on the medium tyre – giving them an advantage over those immediately behind.
Much of the detailed discussion among the team managers has revolved around how the current tyre allocation is shared out over this new weekend format. That also had to incorporate how intermediate and wet tyres fit in should some or indeed all of the track sessions see rain.
The team principals were more concerned with the financial side – the feeling was if teams are putting on an extra TV show, they should be paid for it. The final agreement is understood to be for $150,000 (£108,000) per team per sprint race – in other words each team will get an $450,000 (£324,000) bonus payment from F1 for the three events. Not much in the scheme of things, but all helps…
The other big concern for teams was the potential cost of extra damage incurred, as they rightly pointed out that a 17-lap race, and in particular an extra start, was more risky than normal qualifying. That was significant in the context of a budget cap that has forced the big teams to account for everything they spend, and risk penalties should they go over the limit.
“We need to protect the DNA of the sport. A pre-final on a Saturday is not a grand prix.”
The eventual compromise, only for cars that retire or pit after incidents, was a sort of “insurance” equating to $100,000 (£72,000). It’s not added to the cap, but will be a “downward adjustment” when each team’s overall spending for the year is added up. Pirelli tyre testing costs, which are seen as outside the actual racing programme, are treated in a similar way.
All of that is internal housekeeping for the teams, and of little interest to fans and purists. What really matters is what will it do to the show. The reality is nobody really knows, which is why this is basically a live experiment, one that Liberty Media was determined to undertake.
It could well be that at Silverstone, apart from a few first lap place changes, the entire field completes the 17 laps in the original qualifying order, and then everyone will wonder what the fuss was about.
Contrary to what some might think, a lot of thought has gone into what fans might be happy with, which is why any reverse grid nonsense was abandoned long ago.
However, those who signed off on the new format may have missed something that will only become apparent after it’s been tried a couple of times. A lot of people work on Fridays for example, and while they have a sprint race bonus on Saturday, they will now not be able to watch proper one-lap qualifying.