Formula 1 sprint races: what are they - and will they improve competition?
Whether you're a die-hard or a casual fan, F1's new sprint race format should give everyone a reason to be excited this season.
For those who missed it: three races this year – likely to be the British, Italian and Brazilian Grand Prix – will test out a new schedule, moving qualifying to a Friday instead of FP2 for a sprint race on Saturday afternoon to decide the grid for Sunday's race proper.
We take a look at what it means.
What is a sprint race?
An hour-long free practice session will take place on Friday morning before knock-out qualifying on Friday afternoon to establish the grid for the sprint race on Saturday.
Another free practice session will be held on Saturday morning ahead of the sprint race, which will be one-third of the full race distance. Three points will be rewarded to the winner, two for second and one for third.
The finishing positions will dictate the starting positions for Sunday's race proper.
How have sprint races been welcomed?
Plenty of ideas had been mooted prior to the announcement, which has been universally backed by the teams. From reverse grid races to shortened two-day weekends, objections were plentiful.
Gimmicks in F1 have not been met well by the fanbase down the years. The 2014 'double-points finale' was lambasted as a sham, while tacky entrance themes and driver walk-outs were loathed when carried out at the USGP in 2017. The idea of a sprint race though should be given more of a chance, however.
Boiling it down, two of F1's three-day weekend ultimately means nothing as it stands. Two practice sessions on a Friday hold no impact on the rest of the weekend, qualifying on Saturday doesn't earn a driver or team any points, just an advantage or disadvantage for Sunday's race (and this is coming from someone who will watch every minute of all three days avidly!)
Adding a new element to the weekend's schedule, an extra reason to be excited, and to have something riding on the outcome of each day means sitting down and watching a session, be it on TV or at the circuit, means a lot more.
Keeping the existing knock-out qualifying format is also a positive sign. Moving it to a Friday will give fans in attendance something tangible to watch too. Even the purest of purists at a track for practice day can admit three hours of circulating with no reward or punishment come the end can be tough to chew at times. Bringing the drama and excitement of qualifying to a Friday afternoon adds a new element and a new reason for fans to flock to circuits for the cheaper of the three-day weekend tickets. And it's all about putting bums in seats.
Admittedly, the new format won't do a lot to shake-up the field as so many casuals would have wanted. It will still mean the fastest cars will be at the front, but it will mean problems in qualifying will be somewhat rectified with a recovery by battling other cars on track.
Any shake-up could come as a result of the outcome of the sprint. A mistake or a crash on a Saturday afternoon will now be far more hard-hitting for the Sunday race, which will still be the pinnacle and the showpiece of the weekend.
The reward of a point for something as previously irrelevant as the fastest lap has changed the dynamic of races in the latter stages since it was introduced far more than many expected, and with points on offer for finishing positions in the sprint race, drivers have no excuse for playing it safe, especially with the fine margins expected between title rivals Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen this season. Every point will matter.
It might not work or have the desired impact or excitement factor at every circuit (Monaco – we're looking at you) but with three races this season to iron out any kinks and quirks, or to simply kill the idea in the water, it is another reason to be excited about F1 in 2021.