This weekend marks a big change for grand prix racing, as a new sprint race is run to decide who takes British GP pole. Sprint qualifying will be 100km, a distance most drivers last raced over in their junior careers
The second-shortest world championship Formula 1 race is set to take place this Saturday, with a 17-lap bout around Silverstone acting as the focal point of a format shake-up the owners of F1 have been angling over for some time.
It will controversially declare its winner the poleman for the British Grand Prix, which is the first time a series at a national level or higher has used something other than session laptimes (from practice or qualifying) or championship points (often when weather has led to session cancellations) to establish who officially gets pole other than IndyCar’s Iowa heat races in 2012*
Knockout events such as the Formula Ford Festival do use the winner of preceding races to set grids, but those heat races have their own qualifying sessions where the statistical record of taking pole is awarded.
That factor alone isn’t just what’s making this a step in the dark, as F1 has never scheduled races to be this short. Previous occasions where grands prix have ended up just north of 100 kilometres, or just over half that in the case of the flooded 1991 Australian Grand Prix, have been due to red flags. Drivers and teams prepare their cars for 200km or more.
The British F1 championship never ran races this short in the 1970s, and ignoring Bologna’s F1 Indoor Trophy events then the last race to use F1 regulations and be scheduled to be shorter than 100km were the 1967 Spring Cup heats at Oulton Park.
So when was the last time each of this year’s F1 field were sprinting for success in a single-seater?
Nikita Mazepin, Mick Schumacher & Yuki Tsunoda F2 2020 Sochi sprint race
A huge accident involving Jack Aitken and Luca Ghiotto cut this race short just as the Formula 2 title battle was getting tense, and half-points being awarded cost Yuki Tsunoda the title runner-up spot (if his finishing position went unchanged had this race run for the full duration).
Aitken and Ghiotto collided as they ran side-by-side through the very long Turn 3 left-hander as they fought over fourth.
Both went into the outside barriers at high speed, after Ghiotto’s car had already been sent airborne, and were able to retrieve themselves. Ghiotto did just in time before his car set on fire. The damage to the barriers neccessitated a red flag stoppage, and the length of those repairs meant the race wasn’t restarted and the results taken from the end of lap five.
Reversed grid poleman Guanyu Zhou was therefore named winner, ahead of Nikita Mazepin, Mick Schumacher and then the would-be retirees Aitken and Ghiotto. This proved costly in points terms for Schumacher’s main rivals Yuki Tsunoda and Callum Ilott, who were classified sixth and seventh.
Nicholas Latifi F2 2019 Sochi sprint race
Ghiotto withstood pressure from new F2 champion Nyck de Vries to seize victory in another truncated Sochi sprint race the year before, following a heavy lap one accident involving Aitken and Mazepin that led to Mazepin going wide and flying back onto the track and into Nobuharu Matsushita. Both ended up hurtling into the barriers, and the race was red flagged.
With de Vries having wrapped up the title in the previous race, his main rival Nicholas Latifi had nothing to lose. However the Canadian finished fourth, behind de Vries after starting ahead of him, and only got his finishing position after DAMS team-mate Sergio Sette Camara was penalised five seconds for rejoining the track unsafely.
De Vries finished second in the restarted 15-lap race, and Ilott was third.
Lando Norris & George Russell F2 2018 Monaco sprint race
The eventual 2018 F2 title contenders individually all had their worst weekends in Monaco, with Lando Norris doing the best job in making the sprint race podium but also being the only of the year’s top four to actually score on Monaco’s streets.
Ferrari junior Antonio Fuoco started from reversed grid pole, having finished the feature race in eighth place despite a drive-through penalty for putting Ghiotto in the barrier at the start.
Norris, who also picked up a feature race penalty for contact, started third and took a place immediately from a slower-starting Aitken, who then lacked power up the hill and had to retire with a technical issue.
An early virtual safety car to clear cars stranded on the grid was followed by a full safety car when Sean Gelael crashed heavily at the Swimming Pool on lap four of 30.
After initially building a one-second lead at the restart, Fuoco’s advantage was cut by Norris to just 0.3 seconds at one stage, before a particularly slow lap from the McLaren junior increased the gap to 1.7s.
Following a brief VSC when George Russell crashed on lap 20, Fuoco’s lead went above three seconds, where it remained until the safety car returned on lap 27 when Alex Albon and Roy Nissany collided exiting the tunnel.
With little warning, the race was restarted with two laps to go with Norris right up behind Fuoco, but the Italian enjoyed a good gap once he put his foot down out of the Swimming Pool section. The race was immediately neutralised once again though as Nirei Fukuzumi and Santino Ferrucci skated deep into La Rascasse on the restart.
That secured Fuoco victory and Norris second, but post-race both were found to have breached the VSC regulations and had the time they had illegally gained added to their race time. That had no effect on Fuoco, but dropped Norris to third behind Louis Deletraz.
Pierre Gasly FE 2017 New York E-Prix 2
The absence of Sebastien Buemi due to World Endurance Championship commitments meant Pierre Gasly was called up to run in Formula E’s two New York E-Prix races in 2017 during his title-challenging sole season in Super Formula.
It wasn’t a great start as he clouted his car against the circuit limits during qualifying for Saturday’s E-Prix, and it meant he started from 19th place. He maqde up for it later in the day by charging up the order and scoring six points with a seventh place finish.
It was a turnaround of form for the next day too, as he topped the entirety of group qualifying, but a major wide moment in the super pole session limited him to fourth place on the grid when pole was definitely on the cards. With laptimes of just over a minute, it meant the whole 49-lap race of Sunday could be completed in under an hour.
He dropped back at first, but was rapidly closing in on the battle for second place at the end. In fact he approached the battle too quick, slamming into the barriers at the final corner as looked at making a move on the two Mahindra cars ahead of him before they met the chequered flag.
Once Buemi was back in the series, Gasly’s time in FE was quickly forgotten. However he is the first FE driver to then go on to win a F1 grand prix.
Charles Leclerc F2 2017 Monaco sprint race
The first races on home soil for Charles Leclerc went, quite frankly, dreadfully. The F2 rookie took pole, and was controlling the feature race until a safety car interruption shortly after his pitstop.
The issue was the safety car picked up long-time leader Leclerc rather than yet-to-pit Oliver Rowland, who was then able to streak past Leclerc and make his own pitstop without a loss.
It only got worse for Leclerc, as vibrations on the front-left wheel led to a second trip to the pits. He rejoined the action, but then retired and that left him down in 17th on the grid for the sprint race.
While fellow rookie de Vries led home his veteran Rapax team-mate Johnny Cecotto Jr for an impressive first win, Leclerc toiled again as contact with Norman Nato at Rascasse put Nato into retirement and earned him a 10s penalty. His car wasn’t responding well after the clash though, and he soon retired too in the pits.
There was more turmoil in the coming weeks for Leclerc, but he put in some of the performances of his life thereafter to take a dominant title win.
Antonio Giovinazzi GP2 2016 Monaco sprint race
A feature race error cost a potential maiden GP2 win for Antonio Giovinazzi on the streets of Monaco, but he instead left the principality with his first four races ending in 11th, retirement, 11th and 18th. A few weeks later he made up for it with a memorable double win in Baku.
He originally finished seventh in the Monaco feature race, but a penalty for cutting the chicane dropped him to 11th, and therefore took him from second to 11th on the sprint race grid.
There was no impressive comeback from the Italian, as he dropped to last on the opening lap and at first only gained places from drivers ahead retiring.
He passed Latifi, but that only brought him up to 18th and he remained in that position for 20 laps.
Honda junior Nobuharu Matsushita was promoted to pole off the back of Giovinazzi’s penalty, and he made the most of it to dominate. Marvin Kirchhofer finished a distant second, and Raffaele Marciello rounded out the podium.
Esteban Ocon GP3 2015 Abu Dhabi sprint race
Esteban Ocon claimed the 2015 GP3 title in the season finale at Yas Marina Circuit, while Campos Racing protege Alex Palou claimed his maiden series win.
Palou led the field off the line from reversed grid pole and quickly pulled away from Fuoco to triumph by 4.2 seconds.
Ocon made a strong start to his race from fifth on the grid, despite making light contact with title rival Luca Ghiotto. He went past Ghiotto and Matt Parry to move into third, which was enough to be champion.
Ghiotto did pressure Ocon for position for several laps but he couldn’t find a way through, meaning his five wins wasn’t enough against Ocon’s podium consistency for the ultimate prize.
Future Zakspeed star Jimmy Eriksson finished fifth, and Emil Bernstorff was sixth.
Max Verstappen F3 2014 Macau Grand Prix
The biggest race of Max Verstappen’s sole year in junior single-seaters was his win in front of his home fans in the Masters of F3 event at Zandvoort. That came in at 107.675km, but the shorter Macau Grand Prix carried more prestige.
Verstappen qualified third around the Guia Circuit, and moved up to second early on in the qualification race. However his inexperience got the better of him as he wrecked his rear suspension with contact and had to go to the pits to retire.
That left him in 24th place on the grid for the grand prix itself, denying any chance to use his pace to win. But it didn’t stop him from trying.
Five places were gained on lap one as a multi-car quagmire appeared following a collision between Vertstappen’s FIA European Formula 3 rivals Tom Blomqvist and Ocon further up the field. The resultant red flag delayed the action by some time, and wheen green flag racing ensued it became an early Verstappen masterclass.
He picked off on average one car per lap to rise all the way up to seventh place, taking fastest lap by almost a quarter of a second on the way. In addtion, he was the highest placed Volkswagen-powered driver in a race dominated by Mercedes’ unit.
Carlos Sainz Jnr FR3.5 2014 Hungaroring race 1
Roberto Merhi claimed his third Formula Renault 3.5 win in four races in a wet Hungary, finishing almost 30s clear of the field.
The Spaniard made his way from seventh on the grid to second at the start, then put several laps of pressure on poleman Oliver Rowland, who eventually cracked when he ran deep at turn one.
Merhi then ran away at an astonishing pace, while countryman and points leader Carlos Sainz Jr had a strong beginning to the race too to overcome a bad qualifying session. From 14th on the grid he made it to fourth, but further progress was halted by fellow Red Bull junior Gasly who defended hard.
As the track dried, Gasly then hunted down Rowland for second successfully as Sainz settled for fourth and a cut to his championship lead. It was a performance that, while impressive, didn’t help his ambitions of a 2015 F1 seat.
Series debutant Ocon held off the attention of Jazeman Jaafar to take ninth.
Valtteri Bottas FIA F3 Int. Trophy 2011 Macau Grand Prix
Valtteri Bottas’s main focus in 2011 was GP3, which he won the title in, and he also got his first F1 test with Williams. At the end of the year the focus was on a F3 return at the Macau GP with Double R Racing, and it started off encouragingly as the Finn went fourth fastest in qualifying.
He then kept it clean to retain that position in the qualification race, with some drivers able to get past but making mistakes that undid any advantage they briefly had over Bottas.
The main race was a different matter though, with far more risks being taken given what was on the line, and in the last of his three-wide moments going into Lisboa with Dani Juncadella and Felipe Nasr he braked later than his opponents – with rear brakes he was already struggling with – which left him with too much speed as he turned and he clattered the barriers. His race was over.
Daniel Ricciardo FR3.5 2011 Monaco
FR3.5 only held one race in its Monaco rounds, and that freed up Daniel Ricciardo to spend Thursday driving for Toro Rosso (now AlphaTauri) in F1 free practice.
When he hopped back into his usual car he was fastest in practice and qualifying, and that set up a lights-to-flag win. Brendon Hartley and Robert Wickens applied pressure through the first handful of laps, but Hartley started being more cautious and Wickens was saving his challenges for the end.
Two safety car interruptions kept Wickens on the tail of the leader, but strong corner exits for the leader meant there was nowhere around the circuit where Wickens could make a move. The result was Ricciardo’s second Monaco win, his fifth FR3.5 win and another point to take to Dr Helmut Marko to convince him he was already F1-worthy.
Sergio Perez GP2 2010 Monaco sprint race
Having brilliantly won the feature race the day before – his first win in the main GP2 series – Sergio Perez was therefore tasked with doing what he could from eighth on the grid in the sprint race. In one of the more chaotic Monaco races, Addax driver Perez kept his head cool to salvage a point.
Incidents for Scuderia Coloni’s Alberto Valerio and Racing Engineering’s Dani Clos, as well as a drive-through for Rapax’s Pastor Maldonado for jumping the start, allowed Perez to slide into the top six (and thus the points) despite being passed by Trident’s Cecotto.
At the end of the race, Perez was pressuring Rapax’s Luiz Razia while also holding off Arden’s Charles Pic. Up front, DAMS’ Jerome d’Ambrosio beat Addax’s Giedo van der Garde by a narrow margin, while ART Grand Prix’s Jules Bianchi made bold moves to take third on a track he would rise to stardom on four years later.
It was a rather incident-heavy race, with five drivers including Maldonado picking up penalties and seven of the 24 drivers not seeing the chequered flag.
Sebastian Vettel FR3.5 2007 Monaco
Future two-time Monaco Grand Prix winner Sebastian Vettel would have had a stronger chance to win on the streets in FR3.5 not long before his F1 call-up with BMW Sauber if not for a simple luck of the draw.
The qualifying groups that year were decided with a draw, and Carlin driver Vettel was placed in what was the group that appeared to have the slower track conditions.
Tech 1 Racing’s Alvaro Parente was the lucky man on the day and put it together to stick it on pole despite hitting the wall, and future FE racer Salvador Duran thought he was on pole but set his fastest lap while yellow flags were being waved.
Parente nailed the start and had to withstand pressure throughout the 25-lap race from Vettel, who was never more than 1.5s behind. Vettel had a moment on lap 15, cutting the Swimming Pool chicane, but kept the pressure on until the end.
Duran barged his way from fifth to take third after passing Milos Pavlovic at the start and inheriting the final podium spot after Clivio Piccione spun late on. Future F1 driver van der Garde rounded out the top five.
Lewis Hamilton GP2 2006 Hungaroring sprint race
The Hungaroring sprint race was held in abysmal conditions shortly before F1’s first wet race at the circuit. Hamilton was in the midst of the toughest round of his GP2 season, while title rival Nelson Piquet Jr aimed to be first to complete a perfect weekend.
Giorgio Pantano spun off on the sighting lap for GP2 drivers, and the race began under the safety car. The cars were released on lap three, with Hamilton starting from 10th following a recovery from crashing in practice, spinning in qualifying (which put him last) and then using scintillating pace to rise to 10th despite a drive-through in the feature race.
Jose Maria Lopez spun off early in the sprint race after starting from pole, before Andre Negrao had a huge shunt that allowed Piquet and Hamilton to make up ground. Piquet also made crucial moves on E.J. Viso and Hamilton’s ART Grand Prix team-mate Alexandre Premat for second.
That became first when Racing Engineering’s Adam Carroll, who was leading, spun into the barriers. Piquet enjoyed a five-second lead over Premat, who did not make it easy for his team-mate to get by.
Piquet went on to complete the first GP2 perfect weekend – pole, both wins and both fastest laps – while Hamilton salvaged a second place from 10th on the grid and Premat completed the podium.
While the Hungaroring sprint race marginally exceeds the length of F1’s first sprint race, Hamilton did end the previous year with victory, pole and fastest lap in the 82.332km F3 Euro Series finale at Hockenheim.
Kimi Raikkonen FR Eurocup 2000 Spa-Francorchamps
Kimi Raikkonen is synonymous with Spa-Francorchamps, so it’s only apt that he triumphed in a Formula Renault Eurocup outing in the Ardennes having already clinched the United Kingdom crown a month earlier.
Charles Zwolsman was on pole, but Manor Motorsport’s Raikkonen got by on the run down to Eau Rouge and simply sprinted off into the distance after that, opening up a lead of four seconds to a charging Matteo Grassotto, who started fifth.
Grassotto had to battle with Raikkonen’s future Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa to take third place before working his way past Zwolsman for second.
Such was Raikkonen’s pace in the race, he told Autosport at the time that “the first day was tough” when qualifying was held, but that “in the race, it was okay again, and I was able to back off to conserve my pace”. Another future F1 driver – one-off star Markus Winkelhock – finished sixth and Massa came home in eighth.
Fernando Alonso FOpen by Nissan 1999 Valencia Ricardo Tormo race 2
While Fernando Alonso clinched the Formula Open by Nissan title in the finale at Valencia in his most recent sprint race, there was controversy surrounding it.
The Campos Racing rookie worked his way past title rival Manuel Giao on lap two of the race to take second place behind future IndyCar racer Tomas Scheckter, but Scuderia Famo’s Giao felt the move was done under yellow flags.
Alonso undercut Scheckter in the pits to take the win and the title in the finale. Giao protested the overtake but to no avail, and he later appealed the decision.
Behind Alonso was series debutant (and race one winner) Scheckter, with Angel Burgueno rounding out the podium ahead of Giao.
*This article originally ommitted mention of IndyCar’s 2012 Iowa races, where qualifying and a knockout format combined for a final heat where the winner was awarded pole for the main race. The race had its own points format to reward its finishers rather than awarding a point for pole.