The clock is ticking as the first sprint of 2024 is in China on April 19-21, to be followed by events at the Miami, Austrian, US, Qatar and Brazilian GPs.
While sprints have ramped up interest on Fridays, the fact that the FIA and F1 are still tinkering with the format is an indication that they do not have unanimous support either from fans or indeed drivers.
Various options for 2024 have been discussed in recent months in the sporting advisory committee, the forum where rule changes are debated and honoured.
The version that emerged and which was approved in Monday’s F1 Commission meeting in London sees a shuffling of Friday and Saturday activity.
It means the end of the standalone status that Saturday had last year when the shootout was followed by the sprint, and race qualifying was on Friday.
Other scenarios were also considered for 2024, including one that had FP1 on Friday followed immediately by the sprint with a grid formed by a reversed top 10 championship order, and then a Saturday with FP2 followed by race qualifying.
Another had a shootout with the top 10 qualifiers then reversed on the sprint grid. To encourage drivers to make a proper effort, rather than deliberately try to finish up in the lower reaches of the top 10, there was even talk of offering extra points in qualifying.
Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19, Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-23, Lando Norris, McLaren MCL60, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W14, Carlos Sainz, Ferrari SF-23, Oscar Piastri, McLaren MCL60, the rest of the field at the start of the Sprint race
Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images
There was also a debate about the entire grid being reversed, but that became moot when – perhaps wisely given the potential push-back from fans – the whole idea was shelved.
The driving force behind the change to the chosen format is parc ferme and an ongoing concern that last year drivers and teams had only FP1 during which to hone a set-up, which was when locked in for qualifying, the sprint day, and the race itself.
If a team got it wrong for the sprint, it was also wrong for the main race, and lessons learned could not be applied.
A team could only make major changes by dropping out of parc ferme, forcing the driver to start from the pitlane.
The format also played a role in the disqualifications of Lewis Hamilton and Charles Leclerc at the US GP for illegal plank wear, potentially due to the schedule not allowing for changes or enough time to try full fuel loads in FP1.
Few details of the new version emerged in Monday’s F1 Commission statement, and that’s because they still have to be debated and agreed upon in Friday’s upcoming meeting of the sporting advisory committee.
The basic plan is to have two fermes parcs – the first is from the shootout to the sprint, and the second is from qualifying to the race.
The big difference from the previous format is that teams now have the option to make set-up and component changes between the sprint and main qualifying, and exactly how that will work and what will be allowed is what has yet to be decided.
Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB19, Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19, Lando Norris, McLaren MCL60, Nico Hulkenberg, Haas VF-23, Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin AMR23, the rest of the field at the start of the Sprint
Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images
One of the concerns expressed by teams is that while they welcome the freedom to make changes, it will add to their workload – not just in the pit garage but also in the engineering room at the track and in the simulation departments back in their factory, where there will be a mad rush to use data from the sprint to hone the car for qualifying and the race.
The FIA meanwhile, has complained since the start of the sprint was about the extra burden placed on its officials as they attempt to monitor parc ferme, and will be hoping that any changes address that.
Another issue with the new format is that there is an obvious risk that a serious crash in the sprint could compromise a driver’s chances of participating in the qualifying session that follows.
To that end, talks are ongoing about allowing teams to have their spare chassis built up and ready to a greater extent than was previously allowed under the rules, thus giving them a chance to fully prepare it for qualifying in the short time available.
In a separate move, the F1 Commission has upped the annual power unit allowance per driver from three to four, taking away some of the concerns about sprint weekends involving more stress on them.