Yesterday was the very first Sprint Qualifying in Formula 1 history! Sprint Qualifying, also known as F1 Sprint, is a sprint race. It brought a completely new weekend format, which F1 trialled at the 2021 British GP. This format brings normal quali to Friday afternoon to decide the starting order of the sprint race. The sprint race is on Saturday afternoon and is a 30-minute race with no pitstops and pure racing action. The only issue is that F1 has called it “Sprint Qualifying” because the finishing order of the sprint race is the starting order of the main GP.
And if the British GP Sprint Quali showed us anything, it showed us that F1 Sprint is clearly a fantastic initiative. Obviously, it’s a new format, which is why there are fans who are still sceptical about it. You can’t deny that the Sprint race was exciting, but it’s just that having “Sprint Qualifying” removes the charm of pole position and makes it confusing for fans. This tweet from @wtf1official summarises how winning the sprint race is actually taking pole position, which kinda doesn’t make sense. In the F1 records, Max Verstappen has taken pole position this weekend, whereas Lewis Hamilton was clearly faster in the actual qualifying session. Even F1 drivers like Sebastian Vettel don’t like that part of this new format.
On top of that, it takes away the unpredictability of the Grand Prix. We can already see what kinds of strategies the teams are going for, and we can already see that the tires are wearing out really fast under racing conditions. But the sprint race itself was, as I mentioned earlier, quite exciting. There was overtaking action and on-track battles, throughout the race, but especially on the first lap. First of all, was the fight for the lead of the race. We don’t usually see a fight for the lead on the very first lap, do we? Well, in this case, we did, because Verstappen got past Hamilton when the 5 lights went out and the race began.
Verstappen got a superior get away from the starting grid, and passed Hamilton by the time the leaders reached Turn 1. The fact that Verstappen’s brakes were on fire when he was standing on the grid could’ve brought more pressure and heat into his tires, which helped him get a better start. Throughout the first lap, Hamilton tried to re-overtake Verstappen. At first, Hamilton used the slipstream from Verstappen’s car down the Wellington Straight into the Brooklands corner. Verstappen dived to the apex of the corner and defended the inside line. Hamilton couldn’t make a move around the outside, since the track tightens as the cars start to enter the long right-hander of Luffield corner. Luckily for Hamilton, Verstappen kicked up some gravel coming out of Luffield. That gave Hamilton a better run down the Old Pit Straight.
Hamilton tucked into Verstappen’s slipstream down into the Copse corner. Copse is the high-speed right-hander that comes before the infamous Maggots and Beckets S-section. As the two leading cars approached Copse, Hamilton pulled alongside Verstappen and went for a move around the outside. But he just didn’t have the downforce to make the move. He had to back out of it at the exit of the corner, which is why he lost a lot of time to Verstappen. That wasn’t the only excitement from the start, however.
Nikita Mazepin made contact with his teammate at Turn 3 and suffered a spin. At Brooklands corner, Russell and Sainz were battling for P9 or P10. When going through the corner, Russell suffered a lock-up on the front-left tire. Russell’s front-right tire hit Sainz’s rear-left tire since Sainz was trying to go around the outside of Brooklands. Russell received a 3-place grid penalty on the evening after the race. Russell will start today’s race three positions behind his finishing position in the sprint race. I have to agree with the stewards’ decision because Russell did make a mistake that ended up ruining Sainz’s race.
And now we arrive at what was a HUGE highlight from this race. And that is Fernando Alonso’s UNBELIEVABLE start. I can’t remember the last time I saw a midfield car get a killer start and gain 5 positions within the first half of the first lap. Alonso was clearly going for the aggressive approach and was using his years of experience to make risky, but calculated moves. He got a great getaway off the start and pulled alongside Sainz and Stroll, who started just ahead of him. Then down into Turn 1, Alonso made a risky move around the outside to fully overtake Sainz and Stroll. Alonso was now alongside George Russell. Alonso overtook Daniel Ricciardo down the inside of The Loop and started chasing Sergio Perez down the Wellington Straight.
Into Brooklands, Alonso dived down the inside of Perez and then danced around the outside of Lando Norris. Alonso completely overtook Norris and secured P5 through a brave manoeuvre around the outside of Copse corner. It was quite brilliant, and understandably attracted a lot of attention. But Alonso wasn’t done yet. One of the main reasons for his superior pace on the opening lap was the fact that he was racing on the soft tires. Most of the field was on the mediums, but Alonso was on the softs. He initially had grippier tires, but then his tires started to wear out. Norris started catching up to Alonso at around Lap 5, which is when it all went south for Perez.
After starting 5th, Perez went down to 7th after Norris and Alonso got past him. On Lap 5, Perez was following Norris through the Chapel curve when suddenly, he spun. It was completely unexpected and dangerous, since Perez was accelerating through the Chapel curve. Normally in a spin, you’d hear the revs go up, because the cause of the spin in those circumstances would usually be the driver getting too impatient on the throttle. But you could hear from the engine sound that Perez wasn’t extremely impatient. It’s just that he was in the turbulent air of 2 cars ahead of him, which is why he experienced a loss of downforce, resulting in a spin. He was lucky that the gravel trap stopped him from hitting the wall at the side of the track.
Perez eventually retired the car, and will start today’s race at the back of the grid. Going back to Alonso, Norris clearly had more pace than Alonso. That is why, on Lap 6, Norris made a divebomb into Village corner and overtook Alonso. It was a great move, and it definitely got the fans cheering. Come Lap 9, however, Norris’s teammate Ricciardo made an even better overtake on Alonso. Ricciardo went around the outside of Village corner, which became the inside line for The Loop, and then overtook Alonso. Even more calculated, and even more satisfying.
Since Norris managed to build a gap to Alonso, we thought that Ricciardo had gotten past Alonso for good. But Alonso wasn’t giving up the position without a fight. Down the Wellington Straight, Ricciardo had DRS, but Alonso had the slipstream. Alonso dived down the inside of Brooklands, and danced around the outside of Luffield. He used the slipstream again, this time down the Old Pit Straight, and tried to go for an overtake around the outside of Copse. But that’s just far too risky, and didn’t work out for Alonso. He had to concede the position. He finished the race in P7, which is fantastic, because now he starts tomorrow’s race right behind the McLarens, and can try and fight for a Top 5 position.
All in all, I think it was a great race, some people found it boring, while others are more neutral. F1 are still trialling the format, we can’t really judge it too much after just one Sprint race. I think that we definitely need to see F1 Sprint in a couple more races this year. It’s good to have these kinds of changes sometimes, but one thing I know for sure is that nobody’s going to be happy if F1 make F1 Sprint permanent for EVERY race weekend. If that happens some day in the future, it is NOT going to do down well with the fans. This is the end of the post; stay safe, stay on the lookout for new posts, and enjoy F1ntastic!