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* New format for three races

* Silverstone and Monza expected to be European venues

* Points available on Saturdays (Adds Ross Brawn quotes, detail)

By Alan Baldwin

April 26 (Reuters) – Formula One teams and bosses have agreed unanimously to debut a new points-scoring ‘sprint qualifying’ at three races this season, two of them in Europe, the sport said on Monday.

The experimental format will feature a qualifying session after the first free practice session on Friday to determine the grid for a sprint race on Saturday that serves as qualifying for Sunday.

The finishing order of the race — which at 100km will be about a third of a normal race distance and last about half an hour without mandatory pit stops — will determine Sunday’s starting grid.

The top three finishers will receive three, two and one point respectively with the Sunday format continuing as usual.

“I am delighted that all the teams supported this plan,” Formula One president and CEO Stefano Domenicali said in a statement.

“It is a testament to our united efforts to continue to engage our fans in new ways while ensuring we remain committed to the heritage and meritocracy of our sport.”

The two European sprint races are expected to be the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in July and Italian Grand Prix at Monza in September.

Brazil in November had been considered the most likely venue outside Europe but the COVID-19 pandemic has made that race in Sao Paulo uncertain and other circuits are understood to be interested.

Formula One is racing in Portugal this weekend for round three of the championship, with Mercedes’ reigning champion Lewis Hamilton leading Red Bull’s Max Verstappen by one point. “It is not intended to impact the race event. The Grand Prix is still the vital event of the weekend,” said motorsport managing director Ross Brawn of the change.

“Sunday’s Grand Prix is fantastic, and we don’t want to cannibalise that, but we want to lift up the engagement on a Friday and a Saturday.”

Brawn said the current Friday practice format was “really for the aficionados” and the sprint format would add more excitement.

He added that the idea was for the format to be used at selected races only in future, and indicated it was unlikely to be used at Monaco.

Teams had expressed some reservations about extra costs involved, with the bigger ones already wrestling with a $145 million budget cap. They had twice rejected proposals for reversed grid Saturday races.

The website reported teams would be allowed $500,000 on top of the budget cap to cover the cost of the three races with a mechanism for additional claims in the event of crash damage.

“The drivers are open minded about the format, and that’s all we ask — that the drivers keep an open mind so we can evaluate this event and then we decide if in the future it forms a feature of the F1 season,” said Brawn.

“If it doesn’t work, we put hands up and we will think again.” (Additional reporting by Rohith Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Christian Radnedge and Pritha Sarkar)