Stefano Domenicali managed to stir the pot in Formula One land while he was visiting the opening event of the MotoGP season in Portugal this weekend. F1’s CEO claimed, “I am a supporter of the cancellation of free practice sessions, which are of great use to the engineers, but that the public doesn’t like.”
For some this may sound a shocking development for Formula One to cope with, however this is and old chestnut that has been kicked around the can many times before.
F1 discuss a 2-day weekend
Prior to the present boom in Formula 1, Friday practice sessions were often a bleak and solitary affair for those who bought tickets for the first day of the weekend.
This was particularly true for events held outside Formula One’s European heartland where the audience interest was limited to on track competitive sessions.
The idea of scrapping Friday on track sessions altogether was seriously discussed by the teams and F1 before the signing of the latest Concorde agreement in 2020.
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Historically the Friday at an F1 event more often than not cost the race promoter money. With just a handful of fans except at select circuits and a host of logistical expenses to cover, Friday was perceived as the day for the engineers to engage in their voodoo trickery which few others understood.
As early as 2018 when the Sprint races were being discussed, Daniel Ricciardo was on board with the idea claiming, “I’d prefer no practices and just Saturday, Sunday,”
Ricciardo told ESPN “Just qualify Saturday morning, race Saturday afternoon and race again Sunday. Less laps of nonsense and more laps of meaningful business.
“I want it to be serious, it is not the F1 everyone is used to, so you have to be careful with two races. But I like racing, I don’t like practice so much. So, if it just meant that we could race more through a year, and do less practice, then that sounds good to me.”
The Sprint saves F1 Friday practice
Of course the suggestion of scrapping F1 Friday’s may well have been a clever ruse to pave the way for the introduction of the Sprint races.
Giving the promoter an extra reason to sell Friday tickets for qualifying was a small price to pay by the traditionalists to retain the other practice sessions.
And of course, the Sprint would be just for 3 weekends a year?
Then 6…… then ?
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The Sprint has itself come under scrutiny as drivers complain it often leads cautious racing.
Having qualified on Friday afternoon for the Sprint starting order, the drivers then compete in the Sprint Saturday afternoon and the final classification decides the starting order for the Sunday GP.
To combat the cautious approach to Sprint racing the FIA upped the points awarded for the event last season with 8 for the win all the way down to 1 point for 8th position.
Sprint parc ferme conundrum
The Sprint creates another problem. The cars are held in parc ferme conditions following qualifying which means the setup cannot be altered for Practice 3 the following morning.
This renders the Saturday morning practice session fairly pointless other than to measure tyre degradation over longer fuel runs.
The F1 commission met before Christmas to discuss amongst other thongs changing the Sprint regulations. This included scrapping the parc ferme rule from Friday evening.
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However, to introduce this for 2023 a super majority was required and there was none to be had.
Not only has practice 3 at Sprint weekends been neutered, but with the growing number of night races (6 this year) the first and final practice before qualifying now also has its limitations.
Night races have practice sessions 1 and 3 during the afternoon with only practice 2 on the Friday held at the same time as qualifying and the race.
Night races render FP1/3 less informative
The temperature of the asphalt changes significantly between the day and night. This renders much of the tyre analysis work done by drivers and engineers during the daytime in practice 1 and 3 useless for the competitive sessions.
As if to throw another spanner in the works, F1 will have its first night time Sprint this season, late in the year during the Qatar GP weekend.
With a green track and little rubber laid down FP1 was historically a session where the drivers and engineers would develop what they call a baseline setup for the weekend. There would also be some constant speed aero tests together with analysis of any upgraded components.
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Tradition use of F1 practice sessions
FP2 being the closest to the time of the race would be where the teams would prepare their race setups doing a number of high fuel runs and analysing performance as the tyres degraded.
As the track had now rubbered in significantly, FP3 was traditionally predominantly for the teams to model low fuel qualifying runs.
However, there has been a notable shift in the way the teams use the practice sessions since the growing number of night events and the advent of the Sprint.
FP2 merges with FP3
FP2 and FP3 now see the drivers experimenting with both high fuel race simulations together with low fuel qualifying runs. Yet it is the quickest times set in FP2 that now form the basis for qualifying expectations and the times required to progress through Q1.
Clearly Stefano Domenicali’s comments about F1 practice sessions are in no way intended to revive the suggestion of a 2-day F1 weekend. Most F1 events now sell out for all three days and several months in advance.
Yet F1’s CEO knows full well the impact his comments will have and there’s clearly an agenda in him raising the topic once more.
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FP3 is clearly impotent at Sprint and night race weekends which comprise around half the F1 calendar.
When asked previously about his thoughts on shaking up Formula One weekends, Domenicali had this to say.
“In a normal weekend, consisting of free practice one and two on Friday, each session should put up for grabs either points, or single qualifying lap – qualifying for a different, shorter Saturday race, instead of the third free practice, perhaps with the reverse grid mechanism.”
Saturday stand alone F1 event
Domenicali is believed to be in favour of cancelling FP3 and replacing it with a timed session which sets the grid for a Saturday afternoon Sprint.
Friday afternoon will be qualifying for the Grand Prix on Sunday.
This would satisfy the critics of the current system who believe the final standings from th eSprint should not set the grid for Sunday’s race. Further it would incentivise more racing during the Sprint.
While nothing is set to change any time soon, this is clearly an attempt to up the discussion on what an F1 weekend should eventually look like.
The question is how much practice is required and what’s best for the fans.
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Awarding points for practice sessions would automatically turn them from non-competitive to competitive sessions, meaning they’d stop being practice sessions.
I wouldn’t mind, for example, having only a single FP session for each event, be that 60 or 90 minutes.
Sprint format largely minimizes the impact in Qatar, while LV will only have representative practice running with all sessions occurring in the dark.
Temps stay relatively stable in Singapore throughout a day, so FP1 & 3 are more reprensentative than in the Middle East, where the fluctuation between earlier afternoon hours & the late afternoon-evening phases is bigger.
In Saudi Arabia, FP1 & 3 occur closer to sunset, so FP1 & 3 are also more representative there than in Bahrain & Abu Dhabi.
I always struggle with this discussion.
Formula 1 is part sport, part engineering. I watch to see both.
I am in a very fortunate position of seeing a few GP’s, 1 of which i could only attend on the Friday due to work commitments. Had there not been a practice, i would not have been able to attend at all. Practice also gave me the chance to walk the circuit and view from a few places I would never have been able to view from on race day for multiple reasons.
My question is, why when something like this comes up, why is the first thing to be discussed always running the cars even less over the weekend? I get it Stefano/Daniel, you guys live and breathe F1 all year round so practice seems boring, you come to my locale once a year meaning if i am lucky i can experience these machines once every 365days.
Are people in F1 so naive to think that no practice sessions mean Logan is going to magically start winning races? We don’t think the fact they turn up with an off the pace car at the beginning, then give them no practice time to try and solve it during the year, that they will now become consistent front runners? Maybe the plan from Daniel is to make it so hard for the newcomers by having no sessions for them to get their feet wet will mean his career may last a bit longer?
If for some reason more excitement is needed on track, there are quite a few things you could do for us to achieve that without running the main part of your business model.. Less..
Maybe you could get the stewardship of the weekend under control so we know that the battle we are watching unfold is actually real and not going to be decided after the podium.
Get track limits under control, help guys like Herta have a run so the FANS can see a long awaited match-up.
Or…… You could just keep us thinking that you care more about the money than you do the sport.
Its 100% to make the event more profitable to the promoter and hence justify the exorbitant fees FOM charges.
If the event becomes Sat Sunday only, then that is fewer support races, less over head… aka less costs. Yet the ticket prices and tv money will stay the same.
The problem with testing is that all of the cars are cookie cutter, the engines are boring and the media couldnt turn a wrench or understand how a gurney flap works. So there is no tech being discussed which is 80-90% of F1. The drivers really only gain or loose one position to the ability of the car. Lauda championed this fact with Lewis and Rosberg winning every race they didnt crash into each other.