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New 'sprint qualifying' format approved for three races

By MURRAY GREIG | China Daily | Updated: 2021-05-04 12:29
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Ferrari's Charles Leclerc and Ferrari's Carlos Sainz Jr. in action during a race in Portimao, Portugal on May 2, 2021. [Photo/Agencies]

Formula 1 teams have given a unanimous green light to a points-scoring qualifying system for three grand prix races this season.

The experimental format will feature a qualifying session after the first practice session on Friday to determine the grid for a Saturday sprint race that will serve as a qualifier for Sunday.

The order of finish for the 100-km sprint-with no mandatory pit stops-will determine Sunday's starting grid. The British Grand Prix at Silverstone (July 18), the Italian GP at Monza (Sept 12) and the Brazilian GP at Sao Paulo (Nov 7) have been penciled in for the trial runs.

"I am pleased to see that Formula 1 is seeking new ways to engage with its fans and enlarge the spectacle of a race weekend through the concept of sprint qualifying," FIA president Jean Todt said on the weekend.

"It was made possible thanks to the continued collaboration between FIA, Formula 1 and all of the teams.

"F1 is showing itself to be stronger than ever with all stakeholders working together in this way, and much has been done to ensure that the sporting, technical and financial aspects of the format are fair."

The FIA Formula 1 Commission said the format is designed to increase on-track action, and strikes the right balance between rewarding drivers and teams on merit and giving others a chance to battle their way through the field on Saturday to increase their chances of success on Sunday.

The winner of the qualifying sprint will receive three points, the runner-up will get two and the third-place finisher will receive one point.

"We are excited by this new opportunity that will bring our fans more engaging race weekends this season," said Stefano Domenicali, president and chief executive of Formula 1.

"Seeing the drivers battling it out over three days will be an amazing experience and I am sure the drivers will relish the fight.

"I am also delighted that all the teams supported this plan. It is a testament to our united efforts to continue to engage our fans in new ways while ensuring we remain committed to the heritage and meritocracy of our sport."

Some teams had expressed reservations about the extra costs involved, with the bigger ones already approaching the $145 million budget cap. They had twice rejected proposals for reversed-grid Saturday races.

According to the-race.com, teams will be allowed $500,000 on top of the budget cap to cover the cost of the three qualifying sprints, with an allowance for additional claims in the event of crash damage.

In other racing news, Indianapolis Motor Speedway will allow up to 135,000 fans to attend this year's Indy 500-roughly 40 percent of the track's full capacity, but still the world's largest public sporting event since pandemic lockdowns began in March 2020.

Associated Press reported that organizers of the May 30 race said they worked with public health officials to come up with a safe number of fans. Those in attendance will be spread out across the Speedway's 250,000-plus grandstand seats, with a limited number of seats available in the infield pagoda.

Mark Miles, president and CEO of Penske Entertainment, said he expects around 60 percent of attendees will be fully vaccinated, and the track will continue to function as a vaccination site throughout May.

Guests will be required to wear face coverings, and temperatures will be checked before entry.

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