F1: Drivers welcome Sprint race changes – but Max Verstappen is still not a fan

Reigning F1 World Champion Max Verstappen believes that the enhancements to the Sprint races in 2023 will have little impact on the format.

The Red Bull driver has always been a vocal opponent of the format, which Formula 1 has introduced at select rounds since 2021.

For this season, the governing body has made a change, too. The Sprint race and Grand Prix will have separate qualifying on each weekend, meaning the Sprint has no impact on the GP.

This weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix marks the first of six F1 Sprint weekends in 2023 – and Max Verstappen expects some chaos. However, the Dutchman believes that most drivers will still hold something in reserve for Sunday’s GP.

“Maybe some people who are outside of the points [will go for it],” said Verstappen, via Sky Sports. “They may try to get a point. But I think once you’re at the front it will not make a massive difference. [Especially] the risk involved with potentially having a shunt.

“I don’t really see it being a lot different than what it was in the previous Sprint weekends. I mean, I think there will be a little bit more chaos around because of the extra qualifying. But this track is normally quite chaotic, anyway. So, this will only make it a little bit more chaotic.

“From my side, I don’t think it will change a lot. If you are first, second, or third, you’re quite happy in that position and can just get the points. Then you can get it over with and focus on the race.”

While Max Verstappen is still rather unimpressed by the Sprint idea, other drivers on the F1 grid are pleased with the adjustments.

F1 Sprint: Max Verstappen the critic as other racers look forward to it

Lewis Hamilton gave his support to the new format of Sprints in 2023.

“I think it’s going to be tough for everybody,” he said during F1 media duties. “But we’re all in the same boat. What a track to be able to do it at, where overtaking is possible.

“It’s definitely difficult to have just one session – 20 laps then straight into qualifying. But that’s what we’re here to do, right?”

Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz also believed that the lack of preparation may make the Sprint “Shootout” qualifying tricky. Despite this, he believes this new weekend style will be a hit.

“The Sprint of 17 laps, it’s exciting,” said the Ferrari ace. “I think with more racing, more important laps in the weekend. Obviously, it’s tougher both mentally and physically for us. But if it makes the fans happy, the media happy, and the product better, we will do it.”

Sainz’s compatriot, Fernando Alonso, believes the Sprint Shootout style is a “completely new” experience for the drivers. The Aston Martin driver added that this will be “stressful” and “difficult” for the grid, too.

Explained: the new Sprint weekend format

Previously, F1 race weekends involving Sprints went as follows. Friday had a practice session, followed by a qualifying session that would set the grid.

Then, on Saturday, a second free practice would precede a Sprint race. The result of the Sprint would thus set the grid for the Grand Prix, which was in its traditional Sunday slot.

Now, though, F1 management and teams have agreed on a refresh to this format.

Starting this weekend in Baku, Sprint weekends will be more intense. Friday will still host free practice 1. After this, qualifying which will set the grid for Sunday’s Grand Prix occurs on Friday afternoon.

This brings us to “Sprint Saturday”. Firstly, the morning will have a “Sprint Shootout” – a qualifying session to determine the grid. This operates like the current qualifying system but with a twist.

Q1 is just 12 minutes long and the teams can only use the medium compound. Q2 goes down to ten minutes, and again the medium is the tyre available. Finally, Q3 is only eight minutes long, however, teams can now run the soft tyre.

The five slowest cars are eliminated after Q1 and Q2 – copying the current qualifying format.

Read: F1 – Azerbaijan Grand Prix: UK start time, how to watch Sprint race and GP

Sprint Shootout will sort the grid for the Sprint race, which is later the same Saturday. The Grand Prix ultimately retains its Sunday place.

This new format is breaking ground at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Will it be a success? Or will the reservations of the likes of Max Verstappen about the F1 Sprint continue to be true?

Featured image credit: Getty