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Why F1 team bosses want changes to sprint format they created



F1 team principals have mixed feelings about Baku’s performance over the weekend, possibly influenced in some cases by their own team’s performance.

Any such discussions must be held in the correct context. First, the principles of sprint weekends have been established over the past two seasons, and it’s clear they’re not going away, so the debate is about the specific changes to the format last weekend.

So in effect Baku is being compared to the previous format, which included Saturday’s FP2 session, which, while useful for race tire preparation, was otherwise largely redundant.

Secondly, there is always a risk of drawing too much from any one sample, so F1 will need to wait and see how it fares in Austria and Spa, the next two sprints on the calendar.

In the end, Baku was an unusual case, as the nature of its street race meant carnage and mayhem were to be expected – yet that didn’t materialize in the sprint itself or in the main race.

Changes to the main direct DRS activation point – unrelated to the sprint format itself – appear to have reduced the level of passing we saw in Azerbaijan.

Separating the sprint from the grand prix grid is intended to encourage drivers to take more risks, but given the nature of the track, they are all too aware that mistakes in the sprints can be costly, and not just in terms of cost caps.

Perhaps in Austria, where a wide runoff allows for more profit margins, they will be closer to the limit and take more risks.

As for team owners, the prevailing opinion is to scrutinize Baku first and then probably wait to see what happens next sprint.

Toto Wolff, Mercedes-AMG Team Principal and CEO

Toto Wolff, Mercedes-AMG Team Principal and CEO

Photography: Simon Galloway/ motorsport pictures

“I’m not sure I’m a fan,” Mercedes boss Toto Wolff told Autosport. “But I think it’s definitely the right decision to try it out and see if we like it. That’s what it’s about to implement it quickly.

“It’s more about what’s best for F1 at the sprint weekend, I don’t have an answer yet. I think we need to work together.”

“I think the current form is going well,” said Ferrari’s Fred Vassell. “Let’s look after Austria. We don’t want to jump to conclusions. I think the format is very dynamic and good for everyone.”

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it,” Haas boss Gunther Steiner said. “Obviously you always need to see what you can do better, but we don’t have to panic about changing something just to change. We need to analyze and see how good it is or how bad it is, or whether it needs to be changed or not.”

“I think the form is good,” said McLaren’s Andrea Stella. “From a team operations standpoint, it’s going to keep you very busy. I don’t think it needs to happen very often because it can be bloated. I think it could hurt the overall business.”

There is leeway built into the revised sporting rules, allowing race director Nils Vetic to authorize last-minute changes in Baku with the agreement of the eight teams before sending them to the entire World Motor Sport Council for a more permanent repair. The same applies to the next sprint weekend in Austria and Spa.

The revised rules moved through the FIA ​​system at unprecedented speed, with some anomalies.

Allowing teams to deploy all new softs on Friday and thus leaving no softs for Saturday’s SQ3 was not the original intention, as Yuki Tsunoda and Lando Norris did. But the FIA’s efforts to try to prevent that from happening have not had the necessary support from the eight teams.

The bigger loophole that McLaren is prepared to exploit is that the penalty race rules don’t explicitly prevent you from using the middle tire for a token lap if you don’t have the soft tires left over for the SQ3, which is what the Woking team is prepared to do Well done but didn’t as a possible grid position for Norris didn’t materialize.

Lando Norris, McLaren

Lando Norris, McLaren

Photography: Andrew Ferraro / motorsport pictures

Both of these bugs could be properly addressed ahead of Austria, although there could be more sweeping changes to tire usage in the shootout.

Another big area of ​​contention is the parc ferme, with teams having to finalize their specifications after a single FP1 session for the rest of the weekend.

Everyone knew it was going to be tough, but teams like Alpine and McLaren made calculated bets and brought in significant upgrade packages despite only having an hour of FP1 to correlate them and set up their cars.

It’s for this reason that others, notably Ferrari, only brought low-drag Baku wings, rather than something more comprehensive.

Alpine was hit hard when reliability issues limited the movement of both drivers in FP1 and the team had to guess for the shootout and beyond. Then things unraveled over the course of the weekend.

In fact, with Esteban Ocon’s car, the Enstone team had to break the parc ferme, forcing the Frenchman to give up his grid position both in the sprint and the race.

Not surprisingly, Alpine boss Otmar Szafnauer wants to see more freedom.

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“We had some issues on Friday that limited our run, we only had three laps per driver and then we went into the parc ferme,” said the American. “Maybe we should look at it. Because you’re in the park the rest of the weekend.

“So if you want to change, like we had to do on Esteban’s car, so we don’t wear down the planks too much and it’s illegal, you’re changing it in the parc ferme. That’s what we have to think about We have to think clearly about the use of tires.”

Red Bull boss Christian Horner is also in favor of a little more flexibility in the changes to the car.

“I think overall it has a lot of positives,” he said. “I like the fact that the sprint race is decoupled from the grand prix.

“I think the parc ferme, after an hour on the green track is locked in a setup and we should look at extending it. That’s my point, maybe you should still be able to make changes from Friday night to Saturday .”

However, Haas boss Gunther Steiner, who had to give the green light to Nico Hulkenberg’s call to make a change and start from the pit lane, warned it was not so clear cut.

“Setups change these days and they always involve parts,” he noted. “It’s different from the past. Now you can’t even change the ride height without installing new parts. Even the toe, you can’t change without installing parts.

“I don’t think the problem is with us, I don’t think the FIA ​​can keep up with the demands of the job. I think it’s the FIA ​​that sets the rules and they need to solve this problem, we can’t solve this problem.”

Haas VF-23's Nico Hulkenberg arrives on grid

Haas VF-23’s Nico Hulkenberg arrives on grid

Photography: Andy Horn / motorsport pictures

Others prefer to leave parc ferme as it is the same for everyone – of course it offers the opportunity to gain a competitive advantage if a team simulates correctly and gets up and running in FP1.

“You’ve seen some teams choose to start from the pits and tune their cars if they’ve lost time,” said Aston Martin’s Mike Clarke. “Alpine lost a lot of time in FP1, so they chose to change the setup of the car.

“I think we can safely say we’re not at our best, we’re not at our best in a couple of ways, but that’s what the new format brings.

“I think it’s also a little bit deliberate. I think we’ve somehow kept the DNA that fast cars can qualify up front, but you reduce (the chance) that you have absolute order at all times.

“It’s a bit of a mess, but it’s not totally messed up, and I think from that perspective, it’s a step in the right direction.”

It was for this reason that Mercedes had an average weekend.

“We’re far, far away,” Wolf said. “I think we made suboptimal setup decisions after and during FP1.

“At that moment we realized it was too late and the car then drove into the parc ferme. Everyone was the same, everyone was rolling the dice and who guessed right.”

Others had happier experiences.

“We didn’t have any problems,” Tost said. “I think the FIA ​​is cooperative and as far as I know it works well. If you start a fire in a car in FP1, it’s not easy.

“We just have to put everything together because if you have a problem with the car in FP1, you’re screwed. So, for me, that’s acceptable.”

Haas F1 Team Principal Guenther Steiner

Haas F1 Team Principal Guenther Steiner

Photography: Andy Horn / motorsport pictures

Another aspect of the parc ferme, as Steiner points out, is the enormous workload it places on the FIA ​​because it’s launched so early in the weekend.

Teams tend to need to make more reliability changes after a sprint than after a practice session or a normal Saturday qualifying session.

A series of major accidents involving Pierre Gasly, Nyck de Vries and Logan Sargeant, all of which led to major rebuilding, these Both have been added to the FIA’s job list in Baku.

Whether relaxing parc ferme rules will make things easier for the FIA ​​remains to be seen, as technical delegate Joe Bauer and his colleagues may still have to check what is and isn’t allowed, but it could be an option.

The good news is that there are still a few weeks until the next sprint at the Red Bull track, so there is time to fully analyze what could have been better.

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