Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton takes top spot for the Sprint ahead of the Formula One British Grand Prix at Silverstone
Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton takes top spot for the Sprint ahead of the Formula One British Grand Prix at Silverstone Image Credit: AFP

An experimental new race format poses a fresh challenge for Formula One’s title rivals Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen on their return to the British Grand Prix circuit this weekend.

The biggest sporting crowd in Britain since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, with 140,000 expected on Sunday, will see Formula One history made with the debut on Saturday of The Sprint — a qualifying race without pit-stops.

Silverstone, where the championship started in 1950, is the first of three tracks that will trial a 100km half-hour long dash to decide pole position and set the grid for the next day’s main event.

“Even if The Sprint is only the precursor to the main event, I think the drivers will be desperate to beat each other and show who’s the fastest and who’s the strongest,” said Formula One’s managing director Ross Brawn.

A three-part qualifying session for The Sprint was Friday instead of the usual second practice, meaning teams only have one hour on track to set up their cars before the competitive action.

A mistake on Friday is likely to carry far bigger consequences now, while fans — absent last year due to COVID-19 restrictions — can look forward to meaningful action on all three days.

Points will be on offer for the top three on Saturday, meaning a driver who wins both races and sets the fastest lap on Sunday can bank a maximum 29.

Mercedes defending champion claimed top spot on the grid for Saturday’s first ever Sprint, pipping Verstappen during Friday evening qualifying at Silverstone.

Here is a quick look at the new format:

What is Formula One’s new sprint race?

  • It is a shortened race over 100km the day before the Grand Prix, with drivers permitted to use any tyre (this equates to 17 laps of Silverstone).
  • The drivers who finish in the top three positions after 100kn are awarded points — three for the winner, two for second and one for third.
  • There are no pit stops.
  • At grands prix where there is a sprint race, Friday qualifying decides the sprint starting grid, with the sprint finishing standings then finalising the starting grid for the Sunday’s full race.
  • The sprint race also means are only two practice sessions rather than the normal three.
  • Qualifying takes place on soft tyres.