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Mercedes explain 'double-edged sword' of new rule

Mercedes technical director James Allison has explained how the new sprint format can be a "double-edged sword", where being able to work on the car between the sprint and main qualifying can either work for a team or against it.

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Mercedes technical director James Allison has given his appraisal of the new sprint rule that dictates two parc fermé periods over the weekend, allowing teams to make set-up changes ahead of the grand prix section of the event.

The Chinese Grand Prix was the first of six sprint weekends this season. F1 returned to the Shanghai International Circuit for the first time in five years, where the new sprint schedule was used being implemented.

Those changes see the entirety of the sprint event take place prior to qualifying for the grand prix. In extension of this, the new rules allow teams to make set-up alterations between Saturday morning's sprint and Saturday afternoon's main qualifying session - the three hour window essentially providing teams with a second opportunity to maximise its approach to the grand prix.

"Actually, quite a big difference," Allison replied when asked following the Chinese Grand Prix weekend how the rule change affected Mercedes' approach to the event.

“The sprint weekends normally fill the engineers with a degree of trepidation because there, in the past, has been just one frantic hour of getting everything ready and then you’ve sealed your fate for the weekend and you just have to watch that play out like clockwork, either good or bad, for the remaining sessions of sprint quali[fying], sprint race, quali, real race.”

'Double-edged sword'

Allison explained the advantages of the new system, adding the change has been well received at Mercedes.

"That is great because it gives you a chance to rescue yourself if you’ve made a mistake in the sprint part of the weekend. And so something that we were quite pleased with, quite happy to see go into the regulations," he contended.

Whilst his team was not able to make the most of the altered format, in part owning to a mistake by Lewis Hamilton in qualifying which saw him eliminated in Q1, one notable beneficiary was Nico Hulkenberg.

The German driver was able to save his weekend by walking back set-up mistakes in the new window sandwiched between the two parc fermé periods, scoring a point for Haas in the process after a disappointing sprint - thus proving the virtue of the new structure.

"Unfortunately, it’s also a double-edged sword," Allison added, highlighting that whilst you can make amends in the three-hour slot, teams can also make further set-up errors.

"If you use that period wisely, great, you can then be better for the main race, the main event, than you were in the sprint race. But if you screw up in that second adjustment, then it can actually be worse for you in the main race.

"But I think overall, it’s a great change to the rules, allows more flexibility through the weekend and something we were looking forward to."

With the next race, the Miami Grand Prix, also a sprint weekend, there will be ample opportunity to see if a team finds itself on the wrong side of the sword's double edge.

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