This weekend saw Formula One’s first attempt at a sprint race in place of a traditional qualifying session. After an incredible start from second place, Max Verstappen of Red Bull Racing managed to win the race by almost two seconds, which means he’ll start Sunday’s feature Grand Prix from pole position.
As a quick reminder, the Saturday sprint race replaces the Saturday qualifying session; the finishing order of the sprint race sets the starting order for Sunday’s race. It’s a rapid, 30-minute race designed to let teams and drivers go all out to try to secure the best possible starting position. The starting grid for the Saturday sprint race is set by a traditional-style Friday qualifying session; the first-place finisher of the Friday session is titled the Pirelli Speed King while the winner of the sprint race will be the polesitter.
Second-place Max Verstappen got a much better start than Speed King Lewis Hamilton, who was left to do battle with Valtteri Bottas for that second position. Hamilton quickly chased the rear of Verstappen’s car, attempting to slipstream past the Dutch driver. But his move on Verstappen saw Hamilton lose ground.
Meanwhile, Sergio Perez pushed himself up to seventh place after a poor qualifying session while Fernando Alonso moved from 11th to fifth. At the rear of the grid, Nikita Mazepin spun his Haas, and Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz Jr. dropped to 18th after making contact.
On lap five, Red Bull Racing driver spun just before the Hangar Straight, looping the car around before forging back onto the track in 19th place. He epitomizes the stakes at hand: his team will have a hell of a time getting his car repaired ahead of the race, and Perez was cost a better starting position.
There were also plenty of great battles involving Fernando Alonso, battling both McLaren drivers in Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo. It made for great watching, which was definitely a high point of the sprint race concept — and it showed the low points of the soft tires, which provided a great hit of speed at the start but quickly fell away by the time the lap count hit double digits.
Aside from that, though, the sprint race was largely just a condensed version of what you’d expect.
Points are only awarded to the top three finishers, which means that Verstappen scored three World Championship points for winning, Hamilton scored two points for finishing second, and Bottas scored one.
Did the sprint race format work? It was okay. Once the first lap excitement slowed down, it did slide into a bit of a parade, which was the biggest criticism raised about this format prior to the sprint race being implemented.
At the same time, fans at the track got more racing and more guaranteed on-track action. Yes, it was largely just a shorter version of a standard F1 race, but it was more entertaining than a third practice session with more stakes than a traditional qualifying session. We’ll have to wait until Sunday to really see how things flesh out, but right now, it seems like the sprint race took all the best parts of a Grand Prix and condensed it, leaving the feature event to hope for the best.