In 2020 the Silverstone Circuit in Towcester held two Formula One World Championship races in one season with the second celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Grand Prix. The eerily quiet nature of a behind closed doors race event was however, anathema to the idea of a celebration.
That was not the case in mid-July though as 140,000 fans flocked to Silverstone to celebrate the return of live motor sport. Hamilton was the favourite in the sports betting scene, and he certainly put on a spectacle in his home country, his daring/dangerous (delete as applicable) exploits on the track made headlines around the world.
It was also special for the debut of the F1 Sprint a format that has been dubbed the ‘Twenty20 of Motor Sport’.
In this article we tell you everything you need to know about the F1 Sprint and speculate as to whether or not it will become a regular feature of F1 weekends.
What is the F1 Sprint?
The F1 Sprint is a race that is run over 100km, which in the case of Silverstone was 17 laps. The race sees drivers competing flat-out with one another with no pit-stop breaks to get in the way of the racing action.
The F1 Sprint took place on the Saturday at Silverstone – pushing qualifying back to the Friday – and determined the grid for the Sunday Grand Prix. The Top Three also receive Championship Points for their finishing positions (3 points for 1st and so on.)
Who won the Silverstone F1 Sprint?
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen won the F1 Sprint in just under 26 minutes to extend his Championship lead over Lewis Hamilton – for the time being – and secure pole position for the following days Grand Prix.
The German capitalised on a poor start from Hamilton to slide into the lead early on and remained there until the end of the Sprint. Rounding up the top three was Hamilton’s Mercedes teammates Valterri Bottas who finished just 7 seconds behind Verstappen.
(Highlights from the inaugural F1 Sprint Race.)
When is the next F1 Sprint?
According to organisers the F1 Sprint at Silverstone was the first of three to take place this season. At the time of writing though the location of the second and third Sprint races is yet to be confirmed.
Speculation is swirling that Monza will play host to one with the remaining location shrouded in mystery – all we can safely say is that Monaco is unlikely to host a Sprint any time soon.
Why are F1 trialling sprint events?
In order to fully understand why F1 are trialling Sprint Races we need to take a closer look at the current growth of the sport.
Twenty years ago if you sat down to watch the F1 on a Sunday afternoon you either had nothing better to do or were a middle-aged man. Now, if you’re not tuning into the F1 at the weekend and watching YouTube videos about it during the week you’re missing out.
How has the sport managed this complete U-turn? How has F1 successfully remarketed itself as the most exciting sport on the planet? Well, the answer is complex but in essence it boils down to two key issues:
Younger Fan Engagement: Football, Cricket, Rugby and almost every other major sport on the planet are constantly exploring new ways to appeal to younger audiences. Formula One is leading the way in this regard and it is doing it through the flawless execution of an aggressive social media campaign.
In 2020 F1 showed the greatest increase of any professional sport in engagements across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. The sport has managed this through creating short, engaging content that makes fans feel connected to the drivers that they watch at weekends.
Narrative Creation: On July 11th 31 million people in England tuned in to watch Gareth Southgate’s men take on Italy in the Euro 2020 Final. The majority of them weren’t watching the game for any puritanical love of the sport.
Rather, they were watching to see if England could overcome 55 years of hurt and if Gareth Southgate’s very own personal arc of villain to hero would reach its completion.
That narrative and extra meaning is what makes football the most popular sport in the world – the action itself is often secondary to the titanic history and narrative arc behind games.
F1 has recognised this and taken advantage of it spectacularly in recent years. Formula 1: Drive to Survive which aired on Netflix in 2019 has introduced a reality TV feel to the sport in recent years and added an extra degree of narrative to every race.
(The Drive to Survive series on Netflix has been absolutely pivotal in transforming he popularity of F1.)
New fans of the sport are now not tuning in to the F1 every weekend to see how Mercedes’ new car performs. They are instead tuning in to see if their favourite driver can shake off their demons and beat their rivals.
This has ensured that every practice session and every race means something to someone and it is the reason we are seeing the introduction of the Sprint Race. These new shorter formats not only appeal to younger audiences but they are also the perfect length for social media platforms.
In addition to that, the Sprint Races inject more drama and narrative into the sport which is good news for F1’s marketing teams. Can we expect them to become a regular feature of the F1 calendar? That depends on how they are received by F1’s growing base of younger fans.
The early signs look positive, in just under a week the official highlights from the Silverstone Sprint had reached 3.4 million views on YouTube and a great deal more on various other platforms. If the next two sprints perform as well on social media, expect them to become a regular feature next season.