Silverstone may not be my favourite circuit but I was pleased to be there for the British Grand Prix after Covid had put pay to all my other planned trips. And Silverstone was looking like going the same way after ‘Freedom Day’ was put back by three weeks, however, thanks to the Events Research Programme I was allowed to attend along with 139,999 other members of the public.
And it must be said, Silverstone put on a good show with on-track demonstrations, air displays and off-track exhibitions and entertainment to complement the racing programme. They even added 2 rounds of the Masters GT Challenge when the Porsche Supercup fell foul to Covid.
But the defining feature of the weekend was that it was chosen to be the first Grand Prix to try the new experimental Sprint Race Qualifying format. This resulted in a complete reshuffling of the traditional weekend timetable with Silverstone’s own little tweak of holding Friday’s sprint race qualifying session in the evening.
One of the aims of the new format is to make Friday a more entertaining day as the action (or lack of) is not great for TV apparently. Personally, I don’t think there is much wrong with the current practice format culminating in Saturday’s qualifying which can be more exciting than the the Grand Prix itself. For those of us at the track Fridays provide the best opportunity to explore a new circuit and take photographs whilst there are fewer spectators and less restrictive access.
So how was it from the spectator enclosures? I would say more of an interesting variation rather than an improvement with the sequence of events being a little random, if not confusing.
The first thing is that with 30 minute sprint qualifying replacing an hour long free practice session, combined with FP1 being reduced from 90 to 60 minutes this season, the paying customer will be getting one hour’s less F1 action over the weekend than last season.
The Sprint was intended to be the climax to qualifying – to decide pole position for the Grand Prix. So why continue to hold all the celebratory razzmatazz with driver interviews on Friday evening after the non-qualifying-qualifying when Job only half-done? And then there’s the one hour FP2 session, usually held on Friday afternoon, now squeezed in between the two ‘qualifyings’ on the Saturday morning amongst the support races, almost as an afterthought.
The sprint race did not provide any particular excitement, certainly less than the normal Q3 top ten shoot-out. By the time the cars reached me half-way around the first lap at the Becketts/Maggotts complex, Verstappen was leading the two Mercedes and that was the way it stayed. All races are variable in their entertainment value but maybe the drivers/teams just decided to play it safe after the initial jostling for position. The danger of pushing too hard is to spin away a good previous day’s qualifying position and end up last as did Sergio Perez.
As for the support races, it was Silverstone’s turn host F2 which is alternating with F3 between venues. I am a big fan of F2 so three races in a weekend (2 sprint and a feature race) was okay by me. The competitiveness of this Championship was demonstrated by providing three different winners in the three races.
As for the ‘W Series,’ after a season and a half I am still not sure what the aim of it actually is. Winning the inaugural championship has not helped Jamie Chadwick, already a proven winner amongst the men in single seat racing, progress to bigger and better things. Alice Powell and Vicky Piria did a full season of GP3 way back in 2012 and Beitske Visser did a couple of races in 2015 without moving on. Are they anymore likely to be ‘discovered’ now that they are in their mid twenties? All the drivers are racing, or have raced professionally in various formulae or categories, so what is the ‘W Series’ expected to be doing for them? I cannot see the series being anything more than an interesting addition to a race meeting.
And as for the Masters GT Challenge, anything is better than Porsche Supercup.
Judging by the enthusiastic soundbites from the FIA there is no doubt that Sprint Race Qualifying is a done deal and here to stay. It already has its own backer and will no doubt be a hit TV.
Note: Many of these images are taken from original prints, negatives and slides that are nearly 40 years old and are therefore not reproduced to the same standard as current day digital images. All reasonable attempts have been made to ensure these images are reproduced to the best possible standard, however, in some instances colour casts and blemishes may be present.