The beginner’s guide to the F1 Sprint
Our beginner’s guide provides all you need to know about the F1 Sprint, explaining how this exciting addition to the Formula 1 weekend works, how it has developed and what it means for the F1 weekend.
While the bulk of the 2024 season consists of traditional Grand Prix weekends, six of them – a quarter of the 24 events in total – have been designated F1 Sprint events. But what is a Sprint event? It’s Formula 1 as we know it – but with a little less conversation, a little more action.
What is the F1 Sprint?
The Sprint is a short race. It covers 100km – about one-third of a typical Grand Prix distance – and should last about 30 minutes. This length has been chosen to encourage a race that is dynamic rather than strategic. Unlike a Grand Prix, there are no mandatory pit stops. Pit stops aren’t banned but the race is too short for tyre changes to be effective.
The venues chosen for Sprint events are all tracks with great overtaking potential, picked to try and ensure the Sprint is a flat-out, aggressive mêlée from start to finish. Points are on offer, from eight down to one, awarded for the first eight cars to finish.
How does the F1 Sprint work?
A Sprint weekend is different to the traditional Grand Prix weekend but it's still a three-day affair with the Grand Prix as the main event – only with even more excitement.
A Formula 1 weekend is usually run (though not always) over Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Over the three days, the F1 cars appear on track for five sessions. A standard weekend has three Free Practice sessions (FP1, FP2 and FP3) lasting an hour each, another hour for Qualifying – which sets the grid for the Grand Prix – and then the Grand Prix itself.
On a Sprint weekend, two of the practice sessions are deleted and replaced. A Sprint Qualifying session sets the grid for the Sprint – that replaces FP2 on a Friday afternoon. The Sprint itself replaces FP3 on Saturday, before Qualifying for the Grand Prix happens as normal in the afternoon.
With limited Free Practice running the pressure is on to get the set-up right first time, and with extra points available in a Sprint weekend it's even more intense.
Championship points awarded in an F1 Sprint
What is F1 Sprint Qualifying?
Sprint Qualifying takes place on Friday afternoon. Split into three stages – SQ1, SQ2 and SQ3 – lasting 12 minutes, 10 minutes and just 8 minutes respectively, the session follows a similar format to Qualifying.
The five slowest drivers are eliminated after SQ1, before five more drop out from SQ2 – thereby setting the grid positions from 20th up to 11th in the Sprint.
The 10 remaining drivers head into SQ3 to determine the top 10 grid slots, with the fastest driver starting from the front of the pack in Saturday's Sprint race.
How many F1 Sprints are there?
Six venues will host F1 Sprint events in 2024. China and Miami make the Sprint line up for the first time, joining Austin and Qatar which both return to host their second Sprint events. Austria (hosting their third) and Brazil (hosting their fourth) complete the exciting 2024 F1 Sprint roster.
2024 F1 Sprint calendar
|November 29 - December 1
Why was the F1 Sprint introduced?
Simply put, the Sprint weekend delivers more bang for your buck. Many spectators enjoy simply watching the cars during a practice session, but it isn’t everyone’s idea of a good time. The Sprint format guarantees meaningful action every day, with either points or grid position at stake.
It gives fans at the track the opportunity to see F1 cars absolutely flat-out on each day of the event, and gives viewers at home more racing to enjoy.
Why not have an F1 Sprint everywhere?
One of the very great virtues of Formula 1 is that each Grand Prix is distinctive. Some circuits are not a natural fit for the Sprint format, others run a higher chance of car damage and would make teams overly cautious, and some circuits are very comfortable with their traditional weekend format.
But the Sprint is a young and evolving concept, with the present arrangement still part of a learning exercise.
Does the Sprint influence the Grand Prix?
No… and yes. The Sprint is designed to be standalone event. Sprint Qualifying on Friday afternoon forms the grid for the Sprint on Saturday morning, and the result of the Sprint has no bearing on the Grand Prix… except in some very specific circumstances.
The first is a grid penalty. As with any Formula 1 race, a driver picking up a penalty in the Sprint that can’t be served immediately, will serve it at their next race – usually the Grand Prix the following day.
The second is crash damage. A team is allowed to repair crash damage without penalty if they use like-for-like parts – but if a Sprint crash is sufficiently severe that the team needs to change the chassis, then the driver will automatically lose their spot on the grid and have to start the Grand Prix from the pit lane. This happened to Sergio Perez in Qatar last year.
The bigger influence on a Grand Prix comes not from the Sprint, but rather from the limited nature of practice, with only one Free Practice session on a Sprint weekend instead of the usual three. This has a profound impact on the teams and how they operate – and not solely because they have only 60 minutes of track time to practice instead of the usual 180.
On a normal race weekend, the teams have 26 hours between the end of the first practice session and when they have to lock-in their set-up choices for Qualifying and the race. There’s a lot of analysis done at the track, and more back at the factory, where reserve drivers will be working in the simulator experimenting with different set-up options based on the telemetry flowing back from the circuit, and engineers will be mulling over the rich seam of data it generates.
The cars are also running extra electronics on Friday, with supplemental sensors and cameras, designed to maximise that data. These sensors and cameras, together with their wiring looms, are heavy – perhaps adding four or five kilos – and will be stripped out on Friday evening, getting the car down to its fighting weight ahead of Saturday’s action.
None of these things are really possible on a Sprint weekend. The car goes out for the single practice session in something as close to its race spec as the team can guestimate. It’s a method of operation that rewards a slick, effective trackside operation – but punishes teams for the rest of the weekend if their best guesses are incorrect. Someone is always caught out, which makes Sprint weekends dramatically unpredictable.
How has the F1 Sprint changed?
Sprint weekends are a relatively modern addition to Formula 1. The 2021 calendar included three Sprint events, with the first being held as part of the British Grand Prix weekend at Silverstone. This was followed by Sprints at Monza and Interlagos. The process was repeated in 2022, this time with Sprints at Imola, the Red Bull Ring and Interlagos again, and the programme was expanded to six events in 2023, with Sprints in Azerbaijan, Austria, Belgium, Qatar, the US Grand Prix and Brazil.
The rules have gone through something of a metamorphosis in its short history, with the initial version having the Sprint set the grid for the Grand Prix, and a token number of points on offer for the first three finishers. That changed for 2023, with more points made available in an effort to remove an element of caution that had crept into proceedings too. The Sprint weekend format was tweaked for 2024, with Qualifying (previously called the Shootout) moving to Friday afternoon ahead of the Sprint itself on Saturday morning.
Max Verstappen has been F1’s stand-out sprinter, winning seven of the 12 races so far. Valtteri Bottas is the only other multiple winner, with two victories, while George Russell, Sergio Perez and Oscar Piastri have also taken Sprint wins.