Grand prix racing could change forever if a qualifying experiment at three races this year, with a Sprint race on Saturday afternoons, is successful.
Plans for the Saturday sprint have been underway for more than a year but it has now been confirmed by the governing body of world motorsport, the FIA, with support from the owners of F1.
Everyone in F1 is likely to have an opinion this weekend at the Portuguese Grand Prix, even before F1 announces which races – two in Europe and one outside – will host the trial.
Even more controversially, the top three finishers in the Sprint Qualifying, will receive championship points.
Formula One has been looking for ways to add spice to race weekends and shuffle the grid for races and, provided the plan works, it will become a permanent part of the championship from 2022.
“We are excited by this new opportunity that will bring our fans an even more engaging race weekend in 2021,” said the newly-appointed president and CEO of Formula 1, Stefano Domenicali.
“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.”
The format for the three trial weekends will be:
Free practice 1 – 60 minutes, 2 sets of tyres
Qualifying for Sprint Qualifying on Saturday – 5 soft tyre sets
Free practice 2 – 60 minutes, 1 set of tyres
Sprint Qualifying – 100 kilometres, 2 sets of tyres
Full-distance Grand Prix with 2 remaining sets of tyres
“I am pleased to see that Formula 1 is seeking new ways to engage with its fans and enlarge the spectacle of a race weekend through the concept of Sprint Qualifying,” said FIA president, and former Ferrari team boss, Jean Todt.
“It was made possible thanks to the continued collaboration between the FIA, Formula 1, and all of the teams. F1 is showing itself to be stronger than ever with all stakeholders working together in this way, and much has been done to ensure that the Sporting, Technical and Financial aspects of the format are fair.”
There are many complicating factors in the plan, including tyre allocations for wet sessions and restrictions on which parts can be changed over a race weekend.
F1 said the biggest changes are to prevent teams from building special qualifying cars for Saturdays, to limit the number of hours required for preparation work and to allow enough tweaking that Saturday morning’s free practice is still worthwhile.
From the start of Sprint Qualifying, some minor tweaks will be allowed, including weight distribution in the cars and changes to cooling inlets and outlets provided there is a 10-degree temperature change between the start of Friday’s qualifying and the first race.