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Motor racing-Mercedes boss says F1 sprint format is ‘not fish, not meat’

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September 11, 2021

By Alan Baldwin

(Reuters) – Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff dismissed Formula One’s experimental Saturday sprint format as ‘not fish, not meat’ and said it was not doing much for the sport either.

The 100km qualifying race was trialled for the second time at the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, but drivers struggled to overtake.

Mercedes’ seven-times world champion Lewis Hamilton made a poor start and ended up fourth on the grid for Sunday’s main race, with title rival Max Verstappen putting his Red Bull on pole.

Valtteri Bottas won the sprint for Mercedes, leading all the way, but the Finn will start last on Sunday due to engine penalties.

Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto has suggested reverse grids could be used next season while Formula One is also considering running sprint races as stand-alone events unrelated to Sunday’s grand prix.

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Asked for his opinion, Wolff told reporters he felt the experiments were ‘diluting the DNA of the sport as a meritocracy.

“I think the sprint races was worth the try, not sure we will keep them,” he added.

“Reverse grids can be done in junior formulas where you want to see the overtaking abilities of drivers but its not something we should even come close to in Formula One.”

Wolff said his preference would be to reduce the amount of practice time.

“Start Friday afternoon with FP1 (first practice), do a Saturday morning FP2, do a conventional qualifying like we do and a fantastic grand prix on Sunday,” he said.

“And maybe you want to do some warm-up on Sunday morning, to have a little bit more spectacle for the people. I would just shorten the free practice sessions so there is more variability in the results, keep the rest like it is.”

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The Austrian said everybody was confused with the sprint format and it “doesn’t give a lot of benefit” because nobody was prepared to take a serious risk.

Formula One has scheduled a third sprint for Brazil in November and Wolff agreed the sport should give it another try and see if anything changed.

Formula One managing director for motorsport Ross Brawn said it had been a “little bit quiet” at the front of the field but that happened in races anyway and the potential was evident.

“I think it’s added to the whole weekend,” he said.

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The Briton said drivers had been generally positive but some felt there should be more reward for the sprint and also more jeopardy.

“If we’re doing that, then maybe a stand-alone event is a consideration. Qualifying on a Friday, race on a Sunday but a stand-alone event with some decent reward but maybe a little bit of jeopardy in the grid and how you start it,” he said.

“We don’t want gimmicks, we don’t want to cannibalise, we don’t want to affect the integrity.”

Brawn said there had been much more engagement with fans on a Friday.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

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