F1's Sprint qualifying format could have a far greater impact on this season's title race than the last, thanks to a new points-scoring system.
Last year's 100-kilometre Sprint races saw a maximum of three points dished out to the winner, with those who failed to place inside the top three leaving empty-handed.
But in 2022, the first driver to take the chequered flag will score eight points, with those who place inside the top eight rewarded for their efforts.
It means that one driver could leave this weekend's Emilia Romagna Grand Prix (and future Sprint weekends to come, in Austria and Brazil) with an extra 34 points beside their name.
What impact did Sprint qualifying have on the 2021 title race?
F1 Sprint was introduced for the 2021 season, with events in Great Britain, Italy and Brazil handed short Saturday qualifying races.
No driver scored more points during last season's Sprint events than Max Verstappen, winning one of the three qualifying races and placing second in the other two.
Those results helped to add seven points to his World Championship charge. Meanwhile, title rival Lewis Hamilton scored just two points.
On paper, were it not for those Sprint points, Hamilton would have carried a five-point lead into last season's Abu Dhabi finale, transforming the landscape of that controversial race.
But with the all-new 2022 points system applied, Verstappen's advantage at the top would only have grown.
Why this season's F1 Sprints will prove more crucial
The rewards on offer for F1 Sprint glory in 2022 have been transformed, with victory now counting for eight World Championship points, as opposed to last season's three.
The points will then drop equally, with second place scoring seven and third place scoring six, all the way down to the eighth-placed driver scoring a single point.
The rewards are such that Verstappen would have carried a two-point lead into last season's title decider, were the new points system in place for 2021.
On the other hand, Charles Leclerc could see his entire World Championship lead evaporate this weekend. That would happen if George Russell claims victory in both the Sprint and the race (pocketing 34 points) and Leclerc fails to score.
How 2021 title race would have finished with 2022 F1 Sprint points
|Driver||2021 points||If 2022 points were applied||Position change|
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F1 Sprint will offer teams more time to fight through the field
The nature of an F1 Sprint weekend offers those who underperform during Friday's qualifying session extra time to fight back through the field.
Famously, during last season's F1 Sprint in Sao Paulo, Hamilton fought back from last to first, completing 15 overtakes on Saturday.
That could play into the hands of teams such as McLaren and Alfa Romeo, both having found themselves with cars that they say perform far better in race trim than during one-lap qualifying sessions.
Most positions gained and lost during 2021's F1 Sprints
Leclerc could stamp authority with dominant Imola weekend
With upgrades expected up and down the order, it remains to be seen who will arrive at Imola with the fastest car of all.
Should Ferrari prove to hold the advantage, Leclerc could end the weekend counting the most commanding lead any driver has held after the opening four rounds of a new F1 season.
Helped by the change to the points-scoring system in 2010, Rosberg's record-holding start to the 2016 season had him on 100 points following the Russian GP – and with a 43-point lead over closest rival Hamilton.
With a Sprint and race double, plus the additional point for fastest lap, Leclerc could leave Imola on 105 points, with a lead of no less than 43 points over his closest rivals.
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