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Risks of new sprint format could make drivers look ‘terribly bad’, says Fernando Alonso

Risks of new sprint format could make drivers look 'terribly bad', says Fernando Alonso

Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton are among the drivers excited by the challenge of Formula One’s tweaked sprint race rules, which are set to run for the first time at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

This weekend’s Baku event will be the first of six sprints in 2023, featuring an extra qualifying session known as the Sprint Shootout.

That event replaced what was ordinarily the second practice session during a sprint weekend.

The Shootout will set the grid for a 17-lap sprint on Saturday, a race which no longer has any bearing on Sunday’s main event, where the starting order is determined by a traditional qualifying session on Friday.

Fernando Alonso experienced race weekends with qualifying sessions on multiple days in the earlier days of his career but thinks the lack of practice before the Shootout will present a unique challenge.

“In the past when I was doing one qualifying on Friday and one on Saturday, back in 2004, 2006 or whatever, we had always practice before qualifying,” Alonso said during media day in Baku. “There was FP1 or FP3 or whatever.

“Now we don’t have any practice and we go into Q1. So it’s more stressful. It’s very easy to make a mistake. I think at the end of Q3 we will all have the practice and we will optimize the lap. But in Q1 if you brake late, or you crash, especially here in Baku where there’s no room for mistakes, you could look terribly bad.

“So this weekend there is a big opportunity to have a big mistake.”

F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali recently made headlines by saying he is open to the idea of removing practice sessions entirely from race weekends.

Alonso said he can see why F1 wants to make sessions more competitive, reflecting on when he watched the sport from home during a sabbatical in 2019 and 2020.

“When I was out of the sport in those two years and at home, I was not watching the practice, I have to be honest,” Alonso said. “They were just too long and boring, and I knew what the people were doing, you never know at home how many kilos of fuel they have, the engine maps, all these things were not interesting.

“I see the point of making something different on the weekend. So we have to embrace that, we have to help F1 and hopefully their fans will give us good feedback on the weekend.”

Lewis Hamilton echoed his fellow multiple world champion’s support of the new format.

When asked if he approved, he replied: “Absolutely. It’s going to be tough for everybody but we’re all in the same boat. And what a track to be…

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