How did the new parc fermé rules impact sprint weekend?

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Several teams grabbed the opportunity of making tweaks to the setup of their car between the Miami F1 Sprint and the rest of the race weekend. F1Technical's senior writer Balázs Szabó analyses the impact the new parc fermé rules had on the Floria race weekend.

Sprint weekends were introduced in 2021 which added a short sprint race to the weekend. While the first year included three sprint weekends, their number increased to six last season. In 2024, there will be six Sprint rounds, with the unique format featuring in Shanghai, Miami, Spielberg, Austin, Sao Paulo and Lusail.

Following complaints about several aspects of the sprint format, a few changes have been implemented for this season. The most obvious change has been the tweak to the weekend timetable.

After just a single free practice session on Friday morning, it’s time for Sprint Qualifying, split into three sections with SQ1 lasting 12 minutes, SQ2 (10 minutes) and SQ3 (8 minutes). This sets the grid for the Sprint race which, in another change for this year, takes place on Saturday morning. Saturday afternoon reverts to the usual format with qualifying to determine the grid for Sunday’s Grand Prix.

Besides the tweaks to the timetable, there have been another key change as well. Based on its experience from previous years, Formula 1 has changed the parc ferme rules, splitting it into two distinct parts. The first comes into effect as from the start of Sprint Qualifying on Friday and ends after Saturday morning’s Sprint race. That gives the teams a three-hour window to work on the cars once more before the second parc ferme regime kicks in with the start of Saturday qualifying and ends after Sunday’s Grand Prix.

The Shanghai and the Miami weekends have given us a glimpse of what impact the relaxed parc ferme rules have on the direction teams take. In fact, the Shanghai round was difficult to read as the sprint shootout was distracted by a rain shower. By contract, the field had fairly stable conditions in Miami which meant that engineers were able to assess the necessary tweaks to the setup.

Mercedes were one of the team that made key changes to the setup. The Brackley-based team opted to equip their W15 with a relatively high-downforce rear wing which was surprising given the fact that their rivals - Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren - all elected for a medium-downforce wing assembly.

The team's Engineering Director Andrew Shovlin said that his team expected the W15 to excel in Friday's sprint shootout which would have favoured a higher downforce configuration. However, Lewis Hamitlon and George Russell struggled for pace which meant that they needed to work their way up the order. This was not a straightforward mission though as they both lacked top speed with Hamilton achieving an average top speed of 5 kph slower than his direction rivals.

As soon as the parce fermé restrictions opened after the sprint race, Mercedes reverted to a rear wing that produced slightly lower downforce level, but also less drag. The gain was 3kph between their top speed in the sprint shootout and the main qualifying session.

Four other teams elected to make tweaks to the aerodynamic setup of their cars in order to increase their top speed. Aston Martin and Kick Sauber gained the most between the short and the main qualifying session (8kph and 7kph respectively) while Alpine and RB also achieved an increase in top speed (4kph and 2kph respectively).

Haas, Red Bull and Ferrari achieved the same top speed, meaning that they were fairly delighted with their pre-event choice, hence they opted to keep the downforce configuration untouched for the rest of the weekend.

On the other end of the spectrum, two teams elected to increase the aerodynamic load of their car. Williams' drivers Alexander Albon and Logan Sargeant achieved eye-catching top speeds during the sprint shootout and in the 100km dash, but Williams felt that it was not the best way to fully exploit the potential of their car. As a result, the Grove-based outfit increased the downforce level of their rear wing setup which meant that achieved the fifth-highest top speed in the main qualifying, having been the quickest in the speed trap during the shootout.

McLaren was the only other team to increase the load generated by the rear of the car with the Woking-based outfit having lost 4kph in terms of top speed between the sprint race and the main qualifying session.