So, Sprint races next year – but not for the first time in the 74-year history of Grand Prix racing. Perhaps they were unplanned but Sprint races in various forms are not new. One thing mankind through the centuries has never conquered is how to control the weather and particularly the rain. When those spots of the wet stuff fell on dry tarmac the fun and games started. This could cause chaos in the commentary box and media centres, but they also provide some memorable Sprint races and great talking points.
The Sprint race I will never forget was at Mugello in 2004. It was the shortest ever race in the Premier class, six laps of the magnificent Italian circuit just 31.470 kms. It was all going so well in the tiny glass house type commentary box on top of the main grandstand. Then the dreaded word was mentioned – rain!
The commentary boxes were so small you had to sit sideways at right angles to the track watching the action on the television monitor. You could see into all the other commentary boxes and there were some furrowed brows and counting on fingers going on. It had been a fantastic race to commentate on that summed up the quality and excitement of the 2004 season. Valentino Rossi, Makoto Tamada, Max Biaggi, Loris Capirossi, Sete Gibernau, Marco Melandri and Nicky Hayden swapping podium positions and the leads, when the clouds started to role in over those Tuscan Hills. Then I started to worry. How many laps would the riders have to complete of the scheduled 23 before the race could be stopped with maximum points being awarded. If they stopped before the cut off how many laps would the new race be and would the times from both races be added together. I was lucky because my fellow commentators Gavin Emmett and Matt Roberts were on the ball. As always, they had done their homework and checked the rules, but others were not so lucky.
On the 17th lap the heavens finally opened. Rossi put up his hand to halt the proceedings. When the Doctor put up his hand at Mugello nobody dared to argue, and Race Direction called for the red flag. The race was stopped. It is rumoured and never proved that one television station thought that was that and Rossi was declared the winner and they went off air. It was a shame because the real fun and games were about to start.
A six lap Sprint race was scheduled with maximum World Championship points being awarded. No race times being added together, just six laps of pure mayhem. Once again the weather stepped to make it even more complicated. When the grid reformed the majority of riders remained on slicks because the rain had stopped and the sun came out. Then it started to drizzle just to add to the fun. Norick Abe, Troy Bayliss and Ruben Xaus all took turns at the front but at the Chequered flag Rossi led the way for the second time that afternoon. Gibernau and Biaggi were second and third respectively which was their positions when the first race was stopped.
he Flag-to-flag format was introduced in the Premier class the next season in 2005 but not in the 125 and 250cc classes. Three years later in 2008 the shortest ever Sprint and grand prix race took place at Le Mans. The original 24 lap 125cc race was stopped because of rain and the re-run was just five laps of the Bugatti circuit. To the delight of the home crowd Frenchman Mike Di Meglio won the 20.925 kms encounter fighting off the challenge of Bradley Smith. Di Meglio went on to win the World Championship.
Finally, spare a thought for the 500 cc riders in the 1954 Ulster Grand Prix at Dundrod. They had already completed a gruelling 179 kms when some treacherous Irish rain brought the race to a premature finish. They were awarded no World Championship points for their considerable efforts because the rules stated a 500-cc race must be a minimum distance of 200 kms. No Flag to Flag or Sprint race to help them out in those days.