Formula 1’s owners, Liberty Media, planned for a swift expansion of the frequency in Sprint events in 2022, from three to six.
After three sprints last season, each coined as trial events to iron out allocation, logistical and financial issues with the meticulously planned restructure of a typical F1 weekend, the championship’s bosses intended to not only continue the format in 2022, but double the quantity of times it features.
However, Liberty Media have now been forced to re-align themselves towards a compromise solution, whereby three sprint events will take place this year – mirroring last year.
The six Grands Prix originally earmarked to host the format included the season’s opener Bahrain, alongside Emilia Romagna, Canada, Austria, The Netherlands and Brazil.
The three trials took place at the British, Italian and Sao Paulo Grands Prix – therefore that perhaps would suggest only the Interlagos circuit was judged to be suited.
Internal discussions over the topic were thwarted over the last few weeks by the top three teams (thought to be Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari) raising concerns over the financial implications of adding what is effectively a second race, where twenty cars are pushing close to each other on track, to a weekend.
Spare parts production and storage, and the repair of crash damage, is the most obvious ramification, but F1’s new compensation package (of over $2.5 million) to each team reportedly does not allow for crash damage.
Instead crash damage was judged to not be an issue after the trials, but of course three races are not necessarily an accurate or large enough pool to assess.
It seems that the alternative to reducing the amount of sprint weekends, was an overall raise of the cost cap. Something F1 and the FIA are rightly set against, with the three big teams uniting in their opposition.
On the face of it it does seem somewhat of a contradiction for the wealthiest three outfits to be demanding extra cash, however the threat of smaller and potentially more efficient teams getting closer to the front through a cost cap is an alarming prospect for a big-spending manufacturer.
In a lengthy blog post titled ‘The Year Ahead’, posted to McLaren’s website, CEO Zak Brown aired his unfiltered opinions on the matter which he feels is damaging the sport.
“Some teams still look for excuses to raise the cost cap and win world championships with chequebooks. The ongoing lobbying by certain teams to increase the cost cap for sprint race damage is a continuing example. The Saturday sprint race initiative by Formula 1 has added new viewers and raised the profile of the sport to expand its global fanbase.
“However, these teams continue to demand a raise to the cost cap by an inordinate amount of money, despite the clear evidence that little damage was incurred during these races last year, in a thinly veiled attempt to protect from their competitive advantage being eroded.”
“The current governance structure of the sport enables a situation where some teams, to protect their own competitive advantage, are effectively holding the sport hostage from what’s best for the fans and therefore the sport at large. These teams seem unable to accept that a budget cap is in the best interests of the sport and cannot kick their habit of spending their way to the front.”
The fact that it’s understood that three teams are subsequently against the sprint format entirely, as a cost cap increase would have been ruled out, the newly-introduced regulatory rule-of-eight (eight teams in agreement) is not currently being met for the original plan of six sprints.
The reduced number of sprints is hoped to change the minds of at least one of the top teams, in order to give the compromise a green light.
The discussions are set to reach their conclusion at the Commission meeting on 14 February, but the risk of seeing no sprints at all in 2022 is still a real threat for Formula 1.