New F1 format quirk means Baku sprint Q3 could lose two cars
McLaren’s Lando Norris and AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda will not be able to participate in the final stage of Formula 1 sprint qualifying at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix should they reach it on Saturday thanks to having no new soft tyres left.
Under F1’s modified sprint weekend format, the ‘sprint shootout’ qualifying session mandates that one set of new medium rubber must be used in each of SQ1 and SQ2 and one set of new soft tyres in SQ3. Tyres that have already been used cannot be run during any of the stages of sprint qualifying.
Each driver has six sets of soft tyres available for the weekend, but both Norris and Tsunoda have already run on all of them.
They still have used softs with little mileage available for use in either the sprint or Sunday’s grand prix, but not the new set required to run in SQ3.
Both drivers reached Q3 in Friday’s qualifying session, which sets the race for the grand prix. They opted to pursue this strategy because this maximised their result in qualifying for the main race, even though it could mean sacrificing positions by not running in SQ3 if they reach it.
If Norris and Tsunoda make it to SQ3, they will therefore not be able to leave the pits and their relative positions should be decided based on previous laptimes.
There were discussions held earlier in the weekend between the teams and the FIA to modify the regulation to require teams to keep a fresh set of softs in reserve for use in SQ3. This would match the rule that exists for the main qualifying session.
However, this did not garner sufficient support among the teams for an immediate change, meaning the rule remains as written for the rest of the weekend. However, it is likely to be altered for future sprint events.
There were also question marks about the wording of the regulations in relation to either a red flag interruption or a visit to the pits in any of the sprint qualifying stages. This is because once a set of tyres has been taken onto the track it is no longer considered new and, according to the rules, it could be argued that drivers would not be allowed to return to the track as the tyres were no longer new.
However, according to the FIA this was discussed with the team managers on Friday morning and a “pragmatic approach” will be taken to allow the single set to be used for the full SQ segment even in such circumstances.
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