Formula 1 is back in Europe and, in addition to the new regulations, a new format will also be presented to fans at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix. A sprint race over 100 kilometers makes its debut in Imola on Saturday afternoon, with eight points for the winner. The hunt, which has been included three times this season for entertainment reasons, could ultimately have a major impact on the outcome of the World Cup.
On his debut in northern Italy, current World Cup runner-up Max Verstappen made up a point on leader Charles Leclerc, who lost his lead in the penultimate lap. Before the fourth race of the season on Sunday (3 p.m., RTL and Sky), the Dutchman on pole position is also a critic of the generally changed course of the race weekends.
After 21 laps in the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari, Verstappen, Leclerc and the Mexican Sergio Perez in the second Red Bull racing car are given medals reminiscent of carnival medals. In contrast to last year, not only the first three, but also the first eight can count themselves lucky, because until then there are points – this time the Dane Kevin Magnussen gets the honor point. Mick Schumacher as a strong tenth and Sebastian Vettel rather disappointing in 13th place are left empty-handed.
Last season, Verstappen had already taken five of his eight points ahead of Lewis Hamilton in the three sprint qualifications. The sprint, which will also take place in Spielberg and Sao Paulo, is something like the super number in the lottery.
The drivers’ union has protested to the Formula 1 marketer and the World Automobile Association
In anticipation of the future planned 25 to 30 races per year, Formula 1 management has tried to reduce the weekend program this season, moving the media rounds from Thursday afternoon to Friday morning. Which made Imola Friday a day of overtime for the racers. Although the first practice session was held at 1.30 p.m. and qualifying at 5 p.m., they had to be on the track by 8 a.m. and struggle through long talks and television sessions instead of preparing for the actual driving. The decisive talks – in the briefings with the engineers – dragged on into the later hours of the evening. These are the moments when the glamor world of Formula 1 dissolves into hard work.
World champion Verstappen, who, unlike his predecessor Hamilton, reduces himself purely to his job in and around the car, rebels against this burden, although as a Red Bull driver he is a representative of the biggest marketing machine in sport: “Thursdays are very long now, even though they didn’t count as real days anymore. But for us it’s still the same or maybe even a bigger workload, plus Fridays are a lot longer now. Something definitely needs to change.”
He gets support from the drivers’ union GPDA, which has written to the marketer Liberty Media and the World Automobile Association to protest. Because contrary to what was thought, most of the drivers have to arrive on Wednesdays, as the media-free Thursday is used for the track inspection and sponsor appointments. It hasn’t become less work, but rather more stressful due to the extended Friday. For the rest, the media agree with the pilots – the change in agenda brings disadvantages rather than advantages. The days drag on like this. What was well-intentioned may end up being too short-sighted.
The real winners of the restructuring are the mechanics
As usual, the sprint race was characterized by a cautious forward drive, hardly any team wants to pay for a possible gain in position with too much risk and possible material damage, as Alpha Tauri and Alfa Romeo had to do in Imola. Only cars with a clear excess of speed ensure attractive overtaking manoeuvres. Leclerc was that at the beginning, before Verstappen was able to regain the top spot that he had lost early on thanks to the better tires. “In the end we were better on the tyres. It was fast, I put a lot of pressure on,” said Verstappen.
Nice Saturday afternoon entertainment, but only marginally more exciting than the usual qualifying in the same slot. Due to the budget cap, Formula 1 is always caught between show and budget. Ferrari team boss Mattia Binotto does not see the drivers as losers, but knows the real winners: the mechanics, who actually only start their actual work on Fridays for the technical inspection. Twelve-hour days are normal for those who keep the racing going but tend to stay in the background.