Melbourne’s Albert Park grand prix, the traditional Formula One curtain raiser, has been pushed back to April 10 in a record-breaking 23-event calendar for 2022.
While the British Grand Prix will be remembered for the first lap incident between championship protagonists Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton, which left the former out of the race, there was a special moment on Saturday where Formula One debuted Sprint qualifying.
Having been simmering away in the pipeline for more than twelve months now, Formula One finally trialed its alternative to the traditional hour-long qualifying session in the form of a 30-minute sprint race to determine the grid for the Grand Prix. And overall, it was a success.
The idea was to enhance the weekend for the fans and give them more wheel-to-wheel racing to digest.
Having constantly preached the mantra of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’, it was always going to take something spectacular to convince even the most traditionalist of followers of getting onboard with the idea of a Sprint.
We saw both the benefits and the detractors of racing to set the grid in those 17 laps around the packed Silverstone.
Verstappen from second leapt immediately into the lead ahead of Hamilton going into Abbey to secure pole, while the midfield saw Fernando Alonso put on a show and ultimately finish four places higher up from where he initially qualified.
It also benefitted the likes of Daniel Ricciardo, who in 2021 has been struggling to extract the ultimate one-lap pace from his McLaren in qualifying against the clock. However, in the Sprint the Aussie was able to move up to sixth.
The concerns around extra damage and racing incidents ruining one’s starting position for the Grand Prix, was also realised when George Russell made contact with Carlos Sainz on the first lap.
This compromised the Ferrari driver’s potential to qualify the car closer to his podium finishing teammate Charles Leclerc.
Russell also paid the price for his over-enthusiasm with Sainz and was hit with a three-place grid penalty for the race, taking away what could have been a top-ten start for his home Grand Prix, after reaching Q3 on Friday.
Red Bull’s miserable weekend ultimately began on Saturday, when Sergio Perez spun at the high-speed Maggots and Becketts complex and was forced to retire from the Sprint.
This left the Mexican driver to start the Grand Prix from the pit-lane and eventually fail to score any points.
What would have been a crumb of comfort for Red Bull was to not walk away from Silverstone completely empty handed, securing the three points from Verstappen’s pole position at the end of the Sprint.
What can be commended, though, is the manner in which Formula One has gone about implementing this – which is a far cry from the abysmal elimination qualifying format, haphazardly introduced in 2016 to only be scrapped a couple of races into the season.
The mutterings of a reverse grid race on Saturday were enough to make one convulse, however, settling on a simple 100-kilometre race to set the grid for Sunday meant that there was an entrée before the main course.
Despite drivers famously stating before the Sprint that they expect it to run in procession, it was great to see some attempt to make gains to better their results on Sunday.
And with it only being 30-minutes in length, if it did up a train then it would hardly be enough time to put anyone asleep.
Instead, the incentive was there to cautiously make gains but so too was the jeopardy. They put on a good show at the time and without it feeling like a gimmick.
With the sample size yet to increase after two more trial runs at Monza and another venue towards the back portion of the season, so far, it can be safely suggested that the Sprint will be introduced in 2022 at select races.
So it should be, to change up weekends for all and give a new challenge among these rather lengthy 20-plus race seasons.