Formula 1: what are sprint races? New format introduced ahead of Azerbaijan Grand Prix - rules explained

The ‘sprint’ race format has changed ahead of this weekend’s race on the streets of Baku

Formula 1 returns this weekend after a four week hiatus after the Chinese Grand Prix was cancelled due to Covid-19. The 20 drivers will head to the streets of Baku in Azerbaijan and will be met with a new format for the ‘sprint’ races which take place on certain Grand Prix throughout the year.

The new set-up has now been made independent of the main grand prix and will have its own qualifying session, known as the ‘sprint shootout’. The idea behind the changes is to introduce more jeopardy into the ‘sprint’ by encouraging drivers to take more risks.

The previous format for the spring weekends, which were introduced in 2021, used the Friday qualifying session to set the grid for the sprint while the result of the sprint established the qualifying grid for the main grand prix. This has now changed as the drivers had been reluctant to take chances in the sprint in any case any errors would affect their chances on Sunday’s race.

This new format was agreed unanimously on Tuesday at a meeting of the F1 commission before being stamped out by the legislative body, the FIA world council.

Ahead of this weekend’s first sprint race of 2023, here is all you need to know about the new rules...

Charles Leclerc (L), Max Verstappen (R) and Lando Norris during sprint race in Italy 2022Charles Leclerc (L), Max Verstappen (R) and Lando Norris during sprint race in Italy 2022
Charles Leclerc (L), Max Verstappen (R) and Lando Norris during sprint race in Italy 2022

What are the new rules?

While previously the sprint races determined qualifying positions for Sunday’s race, the new ‘sprint’ qualifying will have three sessions, with the slowest five cars eliminated at the end of the first two. The sessions, however, will be cut to just 12, 10 and eight minutes while the three sessions in a standard qualifying run are 18, 15 and 12 minutes.

Additionally, while tyre use in a standard qualifying session is free, it will be mandated by the rules for the sprint race qualifying and teams will have to use new tyres in each session: the ‘medium’ compound in the first two and ‘soft in the final top-10 contest.

The top eight finishers in the sprint will score points, from eight for first place down to one for eighth. This new format also means that it eliminates a Saturday practice session in which teams ran only with race fuel loads and was therefore meaningless for spectators.

The F1 commision also agreed to increase the number of specific engine components this season from three to four. These components are the internal combustion engine, turbo-charger and the MGU-K and MGU-H, the two parts of the hybrid system that recover energy. This will be excellent news for Ferrari and Mercedes as drivers for both these teams are already on their second examples of some components after just three races and suffering from grid penalties as a result.

Which Grand Prix’s have sprint races?

  • Azerbaijan Grand Prix: 28-30 April
  • Austrian Grand Prix: 30 June-2 July
  • Belgium Grand Prix: 28-30 July
  • Austin Grand Prix: 20-22 October
  • Brazil Grand Prix: 3-5 November

This weekend’s Baku Grand Prix will be available to watch on Sky Sports Main Event and Sky Sports Formula 1 channel. The race will begin on Sunday 30 April at 12pm BST while the Sprint Shootout and Sprint will be held on Saturday 29 April.

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