After working successfully the identical weekend format since knockout qualifying was launched in 2006 – excluding elimination qualifying’s two-race stint in 2016, and the two-day weekend at Imola final yr – F1 is lastly on the cusp of a significant change in strategy.
It marks the fruits of years of discussions over potential format modifications. F1 pushed for the introduction of a reverse grid qualifying race at sure occasions final yr, just for Mercedes to dam the transfer, fearing it went in opposition to the DNA of the sequence (and, little doubt, to guard its personal benefit).
The tightrope between leisure and gimmicks was one F1 needed to tread rigorously when it got here to potential format modifications, however new CEO Stefano Domenicali shortly set out his stall. He made clear earlier this month that reverse grid plans had been “over”, however that dash races had been on the desk for 2021.
“We’re pondering if this may very well be examined already this yr,” Domenicali mentioned. “There are discussions happening with the groups in the suitable discussion board, and I feel that perhaps this may very well be the one one factor that may very well be attention-grabbing.”
Thursday’s F1 Fee assembly noticed groups formally talk about the plans, and in contrast to the reverse grid proposal, everyone was on board – a uncommon present of unity in relation to switching up the weekend format, however proof of how Domenicali struck the suitable stability to keep away from descending into gimmickry.
An announcement from F1 and the FIA following the assembly mentioned there was “broad assist” for the dash race concept, however that additional concepts needed to be fleshed out by way of a newly-formed working group. The group will purpose to get a full plan fashioned within the coming weeks, permitting for a remaining determination to be taken earlier than the beginning of the brand new season.
There are a nonetheless a sequence of hurdles the brand new working group should overcome to get the dash race plan throughout the road, with additional particulars required. However with the key one – preliminary staff approval – secured, the remainder will hopefully be a formality.
It’s value stressing that dash races is not going to be a complete substitute for qualifying. The plan for 2021 is to carry them at three grands prix – Canada, Italy and Brazil – as a part of the push to shake up sure parts of F1 to have interaction new followers.
Qualifying would nonetheless happen underneath its present format, transferring to Friday afternoon and leaving only a single apply session to happen on Friday mornings. It might kind the grid for the dash race, the results of which might then set the ultimate beginning order for Sunday’s grand prix.
However one of many questions groups had within the assembly was what standing the winner of the dash race would maintain. Would they maintain the official ‘pole place’ for the grand prix? Or would that also be reserved for the common qualifying format, making the dash race victor an official ‘race winner’?
It’s a technicality that F1 might want to make clear, and never only for the sake of the file books. Driver contracts usually centre round race outcomes and wins, which means there should be a transparent definition as to what the dash race constitutes from a authorized standpoint.
There may even have to be readability on how the addition of dash races impacts the technical trivia of working a weekend, particularly tyre utilization and half life. A tyre resolution seems easy, given the groups will save units with only one apply session. On the elements entrance, groups are topic to strict limits on what number of energy unit elements they will use per yr, however dash races would undoubtedly add to the stresses positioned on these elements.
There may even be questions over issues resembling grid penalties, and whether or not or not they are often served for a dash race as an alternative of for the grand prix. Though it should create some new areas for the stewards to introduce penalties, there’ll probably be much more questions rising from it.
The factors and prize cash system additionally must be clarified. The awarding of factors would add some further spice to the dash races, and go away drivers actually weighing up the chance and reward of making an attempt to battle up the order, significantly over a race size of round half-hour.
Given the space is about to be one-third of an everyday grand prix at 100km, awarding factors at the same weighting would appear logical. It may level to the highest six getting factors on a 8-6-5-4-2-1 format, or the highest eight utilizing the pre-2010 system. It’s these form of particulars that need to be clarified by the working group to make sure the format is honest and doesn’t dilute the Sunday occasion.
One other massive query surrounds race choice. Monza was an apparent choose for this type of format, given its high-speed nature and possibilities to overhaul, with final yr’s unimaginable race being the set off for recent talks over format modifications.
Interlagos and Montreal are each logical picks – once more, their layouts encourage overtaking – however there’ll inevitably be query marks over their viability this yr, contemplating neither race occurred in 2020. It’s one other instance of F1’s religion within the present schedule, however one query could be that if the races do not go forward this yr, would different occasions choose up the mantle for the dash races?
Dash races should still trigger concern amongst some hardcore purist followers in regards to the route F1 is heading in, however it’s a mild step that ought to not undermine the DNA of the sequence at an awesome deal. The quickest drivers and groups will not face any penalty for succeeding, which was the worry for a lot of.
One of many legitimate issues could be what the presence of one other race in a weekend format does for the grand prix itself, and whether or not it will take any sheen off the Sunday occasion. However as Jonathan Noble pointed out in his column earlier this week, the Macau Grand Prix runs a qualifying race format, and has by no means suffered consequently. If something, it simply provides to the leisure and variation, usually producing completely different winners.
And the sweetness in all of that is that it may be rolled again fairly simply if required. If on the finish of the yr, the suggestions is that dash races had been a foul concept, the very fact they had been solely run at a handful of occasions makes it simple to take away. The alternative can also be true: if they’re a roaring success, then it may be expanded pretty simply.
With the groups on board for a trial of dash races this yr, the most important hurdle has already been overcome. F1’s new working group will iron out the main points, however as soon as readability arrives within the coming weeks, it ought to give one more reason to get excited for the 2021 season – and must be thought-about a formidable early success in Domenicali’s premiership.