F1 sprint races: what are they and how will they work?


How will F1's new sprint qualifying race format work and when is the first race taking place?

2021 British GP start

The 2021 British GP will be the first event to host a new sprint race

Clive Mason - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images

Formula 1 will hold its first-ever sprint race at the British Grand Prix later this year in July. The format has been agreed upon by teams and aims to add extra on-track action to a race weekend with an additional shorter race held on Saturday.

Officially called Sprint Qualifying, the extra race will slot into the existing race weekend structure and provide an extra race that will set the grid for the main race on Sunday.

The format will make two more appearances in 2021, widely believed to be at the Italian and Brazilian Grands Prix — assuming they take place amid Covid restrictions, but how exactly will the new sprint races work?

Here is a rundown of the rules and regulations of the Formula 1 sprint races, including format, points and race dates.


What is a sprint race?

Sprint races will add a new element to the traditional Practice > Qualifying > Race format of a Formula 1 weekend. They will be trialled for the first time this year to set the grid for the grand prix, in an effort to increase on-track action.

While the format F1 will use isn’t quite the same as those used in Formula 2 and 3, the intention is similar, to mix up the grid and provide more racing ‘bang for your buck’.

The races will be shorter than the usual format and, while the winner will be awarded championship points, the race’s key role will be to establish the grid for Sunday’s full-length race.


How will Formula 1 sprint races work?

The sprint races will not be full-length grand prix distances. Instead, they will run to 100km (62 miles), equivalent to 17 laps of the Silverstone circuit.

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Qualifying will take place a day earlier than usual, on the Friday of the race weekend, and the results will set the grid for the sprint race on Saturday. The results of the sprint race itself will then set the grid for Sunday’s race, which will still award full points and run to the usual distance and lap count.

Only the top three finishers in the sprint race will be awarded points. The sprint race winner will receive three championship points, the runner-up gets two and third place earns a single point.

Parc Fermé restrictions will now come into effect on Friday ahead of qualifying, instead of Saturday as it would on a normal weekend. This will prevent teams from setting up their cars specifically to take advantage of the format.

They’re “designed to increase the on-track action and engage fans in a new and innovative way,” according to F1’s commercial rights holder, Liberty Media.

How many laps is a sprint race?

The sprint races run to 100km so, depending on the circuit F1 is using on a sprint race weekend, the lap count will vary. For the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, the race will last 17 laps but if Interlagos hosts a sprint race later in the season, the sprint will last for 24 laps due to the shorter lap distance.


When will the F1 sprint races happen?

There are currently three sprint races set to take place during the 2021 Formula 1 season. The first F1 sprint race will take place on the Saturday of the 2021 British Grand Prix on July 17.

While the first sprint race has been confirmed for that weekend, the subsequent dates are currently yet to be confirmed but are expected to be the Italian Grand Prix in September and one other race, potentially the Brazilian GP currently scheduled for November 7.

Whether or not those subsequent races take place will depend on the Covid restrictions in the respective countries as well as the viability of staging either race amid the pandemic.


F1 British Grand Prix sprint race

The Saturday sprint race will be held at Silverstone on the same layout as the actual grand prix on Sunday. It will be staged across 17 laps which equates to 100.147km. The race will last around 30-45 minutes, assuming no safety car or red flag delays.

As with a normal grand prix, drivers will start the race on the tyres they completed their fastest time in Q2, should they make the final Q3 shoot-out session. They won’t start the Sunday race with tyres used during the sprint.


Will there be sprint races in 2022?

The addition of further sprint races for next season remains up in the air and largely dependent on whether or not the ’21 races go according to plan.

In his recent post-Azerbaijan Grand Prix column, F1 managing director of motor sport Ross Brawn said that the drama in the final laps was a positive sign for the sprint races and hoped that the format would replicate the excitement that unfolded in Baku.

“I was encouraged to hear a number of commentators say we needed another 10 laps of the action we saw in the final two laps of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix because it acts as a good prequel to sprint qualifying,” Brawn said.

“Sprint qualifying will be a little longer, around 17 to 20 laps, but it could well feature the same type of thrilling racing as drivers won’t have to worry about saving tyres.”


F1 Sprint Race calendar

Race Date Laps
British Grand Prix (Round 10) July 17 17
Italian Grand Prix* (Round 14) September 11 18
Brazilian Grand Prix* (Round 19) November 6 24


*Unconfirmed but announcement expected