Following the final sprint race of the season at the Sao Paulo Grand Prix, I think it’s fair to say that we were all pleasantly surprised as we were treated to… a great race. When Formula 1 announced that they would be increasing the amount of sprint races up to six for the 2023 season my initial reaction was, why? Whilst I can appreciate that the sport is trying something different if the previous sprint races were anything to go by it wouldn’t make any sense the increase the number of sprint races purely for the racing as in my opinion, they had been quite underwhelming and didn’t offer much to the weekend. However, the Sao Paulo sprint race may have just proved me wrong and made a strong point for sprint races to remain.
One of the main issues that has been seen with the sprint races is that whilst they offered more competitive running during the weekend, they didn’t offer much as far as excitement or suspense as it would usually end up with the fastest car driving off into the distance and the rest of the grid slotting into their normal positions that would typically be seen in the race on Sunday. So, why was this particular sprint race so good? Following on from a thrilling qualifying, that saw Kevin Magnussen claim his maiden pole position, there was already a buzz in the air surrounding the sprint race as Brazil always seems to deliver and this year was no exception. I believe that the most pivotal factor in determining whether a sprint race will be a success or failure is the track in which it takes place. Earlier in the season the sprint races were seen as a let-down as Imola and the Red Bull Ring were less than ideal tracks to host the sprint races. When dealing with a sprint race it needs to be action packed from the moment the lights go out as due to the race being so short, it needs to grab people’s attention from the beginning and so a track that usually delivers memorable races, such as Brazil, is perfect for the sprints. There is potential for these sprint races to become permanent fixtures of a race weekend and offer great entertainment, but in order to do so the right tracks will need to be chosen as previous experience has also shown they can sometimes become boring and processional if the wrong Grand Prix weekend is chosen.
Another predominant factor that will contribute to the sprint races gaining more traction and popularity amongst the fans is the continued development of these new cars. As we head into the penultimate race of the season, I think it’s fair to say that the new regulations have definitely done their job of bringing the cars closer together and improving the racing this year. Whilst an initial glance at the results will not reflect how good the racing has been this year, the races have provided memorable moments in a gripping season that has seen battles up and down the entire grid. With this only being the first year of the new regulations the cars will hopefully get closer and closer in the years to come creating more exciting championship battles and allowing more drivers to fight for the top spot. If this is to be the case, it can only be beneficial to the sprint races as every single point will matter and drivers and teams will therefore have to risk more in the sprints to ensure that they collect every point available. Although some drivers have suggested that the sprints are a bit pointless as the teams will play it safe, if there are multiple drivers challenging for a title in the future, they will have to put everything on the line for each race as the points gained a sprint race could be the difference between winning and losing.
The 2022 season mirrored the season prior with only 3 sprint races, as mentioned earlier this is set to double next year leading to a valid question of whether this will be too many sprint races. Personally, it seems as though 3 sprint races are a good amount for the season as there are only a small number of tracks in which this specific format appears to work well with. By increasing the number of sprint races this could lead to dull racing that doesn’t gather much interest from those watching, as we have seen at a couple of races this year. In order for the sprint races to actually add any value to the weekend they will need to be paired with race weekends in which they can off the provide the most appeal to those watching otherwise they could end up obsolete.
I have hope that the introduction of the sprint race format will only get stronger as it goes on and it can provide fans with extra on track action that is as engaging as the main event on Sunday. It’s commendable to see that the sport is branching out and is willing to try and expand upon the standard race weekend, however they must be careful that they don’t overdo it and push the sprint race idea too far as it could backfire and lead to a disinterest amongst fans resulting in this idea being dropped just as quickly as it arrived.