The Baku Street Circuit plays host to the first of six sprint weekends on the 2023 calendar, where qualifying is held on Friday, with a shorter ‘sprint’ race on Saturday and then the main grand prix on Sunday as per usual.
Since they were introduced in 2021, the format has been that qualifying determines the grid order for the sprint, with the result that determines the grid for the main race – while practice sessions are held on the Friday and Saturday mornings.
However, on Tuesday the F1 commission – made up of the FIA, the sport’s chiefs, and teams – voted to approve a tweak in its format which will see the introduction of a new qualifying session dubbed the ‘sprint shootout’.
The sprint race weekends will now play out as follows: On Friday, there will be one practice session, followed by qualifying for Sunday’s grand prix.
On Saturday, the sprint shootout – which will work exactly like a standard qualifying session but just shorter in duration – will determine the grid for the sprint race, which will be held later the same day, with Sunday’s race proceeding as normal.
Sprint races have always been a decisive issue among fans and drivers, as while it means more racing, there is a fear the sport is steering too far from tradition, with Max Verstappen previously hinting he could walk away from F1 if it keeps changing beyond recognition .
Steiner for one believes that the tweaks being made are not ‘change for change’s sake’, exclusively telling Metro Sport: ‘Now, with the sprint qualifying in Baku, we have two race weekends in one. You double the racing
‘For the drivers, there is actually less work because going around on a Saturday morning [for practice] is not very fulfilling because you cannot change the car anymore, you’re just testing tires.
‘How many fans want to watch tire testing and how many fans are interested in seeing a qualifying. Instead of practicing we put a show on for the fans, people like competition. And if I were a race car driver I’d rather have qualifying.
‘I don’t really think we’re really changing the format because we still have the same number of sessions. We’re just changing the sessions to make them interesting for the fans.
‘F1 is here for the fans always. F1 is not here to make me happy! I work in F1 and we need the fans. Without fans we are nothing.’
Steiner spoke to Metro Sport upon the release of his new book Surviving to Drive: A Year Inside Formula 1which is out now.
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