Qualifying in Formula One is set for its biggest change in a quarter of a century, with a new format that will debut later this season.
It’s called “Sprint Qualifying”, and it will effectively consist of a race of up to 62 miles (100km) that will not only determine the grid position for the main race on Sunday, but also award points to the highest qualifiers.
Since 1996, F1 qualifying has been relatively unchanged but for tweaks here and there. A session on the Saturday of each weekend has seen drivers compete to set the fastest lap they can, usually in ideal conditions, to secure pole position on Sunday. There’s been a few different formats, including the current three-session eliminator, and some horribly unsuccessful experiments to make the session more exciting, but it’s been generally stable.
The new Sprint Qualifying format changes the whole race weekend quite dramatically. Following the hour-long Free Practice 1 on Friday, there’ll now be a qualifying session limited to soft tires using the current Q1/Q2/Q3 format. Saturday will feature a second hour-long Free Practice, followed by the Sprint Qualifying race over 62 miles (100km) with two sets of tires as chosen by the teams — though pit stops may not be required.
That will then set the grid for the full race on Sunday, as well as awarding points to the top three finishers: three points for first, two for second, and one for third. The teams will have to compete in the full Grand Prix with the two remaining sets of tires, which may dramatically affect Sunday strategy.
In total there’ll be three Sprint Qualifying rounds in the 2021 season, with two European races and one non-European race featuring this format. F1 hasn’t yet announced which races will have the new qualifying sessions, although it’s unlikely that it’ll be part of this weekend’s Portuguese Grand Prix.
Formula 1 president and CEO Stefano Domenicali said:
“We are excited by this new opportunity that will bring our fans an even more engaging race weekend in 2021. Seeing the drivers battling it out over three days will be an amazing experience and I am sure the drivers will relish the fight.
“I am delighted that all the teams supported this plan, and it is a testament to our united efforts to continue to engage our fans in new ways while ensuring we remain committed to the heritage and meritocracy of our sport.”
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