During the days when Michael Schumacher and Ferrari kept a grip on the top step of the podium, Formula 1 drivers not only enjoyed almost unlimited testing but four individual practice sessions during a Grand Prix weekend – plus 30 minutes beforehand. – race warm-up.
In total, drivers received two hours of practice on Fridays, two 45-minute practice sessions on Saturdays before qualifying and 30 minutes of practice before the race itself for a total of four hours of non-competitive track time to help learn circuits, fine-tune their settings and component testing.
Over the next two decades, the format of race weekends changed, but the four hours of total practice time remained. Instead, drivers would get two 90-minute sessions on Friday, followed by a single hour-long practice before qualifying. That was still more than three hours more practice time than Formula 2 drivers would get before qualifying – and still do – even though Formula 1 drivers are considered the most elite on the planet.
Then in 2020, Formula 1 decided to experiment at Imola with a compressed two-day weekend format, where teams and drivers were given just one 90-minute practice session before throwing themselves into qualifying and then the race. The following season, 30 minutes were cut from both Friday practices, which reduced the total preparation time to three hours. And with the introduction of sprint racing later that year, drivers regularly do just one hour of practice before Friday qualifying and then two racing sessions on Saturdays before Sunday’s grand prix.
Recently, practice time became a topic of discussion again with the testing of the Alternative Tire Allocation format at the Hungaroring. Reducing each driver’s set of dry tires from 13 for a Grand Prix weekend to 11 has led many to complain that it will encourage them not to run during practice to save tyres. But there are those who believe that reducing practice time on weekends would benefit the sport by challenging the drivers and creating more excitement.
So is it time for Formula 1 to consider making just one practice session the new normal?
Many drivers, including Mercedes’ George Russell, believe that just one hour’s practice is enough for the supposed best drivers in the world. “I don’t think it’s right that Formula 1 has three times as many practice sessions as F3 and F2,” he said in Melbourne. “They should be the ones who practice more and because they play less games, they can’t test as often.”
There’s also the fact that less practice time means less opportunity for teams to fine-tune car setups and for drivers to make calls at a track. This, of course, puts the drivers under more pressure when it counts and leads to a greater chance of mistakes or the top teams making the wrong set-up choices and opening up opportunities for the teams below.
All of this should make racing less predictable and more exciting, as well as the drivers themselves being able to make a bigger difference to their final finishing positions on the track.
Reducing non-competitive track time during grand prix weekends may add more uncertainty to qualifying and races, but it also reduces the amount of time fans get to see their heroes on track on Fridays and Saturdays.
With ticket prices to watch races as high as ever thanks to F1’s explosion in popularity and inflation, reducing value for money for fans is unlikely to be popular with pay-to-watch punters or race organizers who have to sell them tickets.
The reduction in practice also puts rookie drivers at a significant disadvantage compared to veterans at a time when testing outside of race weekends is more limited than ever. It also denies teams the opportunity to gather vital data on upgrades and replacements that could lead to very conservative development plans under current budget cap regulations, resulting in more static levels of on-field performance over the course of a season.
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Does Formula 1 need three-hour practice sessions? No, almost certainly not. However, this does not necessarily mean that the sport should do away with the three free practice format.
The move to a three-hour system in 2021 was clearly a good move in hindsight and it’s true that predictability increases with practice time, but it feels like younger drivers will suffer from the combination of just three days of pre-season testing with only one hour of practice before starting qualifying and a race. Especially when we think of the thousands of kilometers of testing Lewis Hamilton was given before stepping off the plane in Melbourne for his Grand Prix debut in 2007.
But the biggest reason to worry about a single practice session is that doing so would be like opening the door to a proliferation of sprint races across the calendar. Currently, the single practice sessions during the sprint race weekends allow qualifying to take place on the Friday night before the sprint qualifiers and the sprint race on the Saturday before the grand prix on Sunday. Moving to a single practice session would lead to either two-day Grand Prix weekends, or, to justify keeping a three-day weekend, see calls for each round to become a sprint race weekend.
This may appeal to many within the sport and even some reading this, but along with Max Verstappen and the many others who would prefer the grand prix to remain the special event it is, we hope that the current format of the weekend will remain for the foreseeable future.
Do you agree that F1 should reduce practice and only have one hour session each Grand Prix weekend?
Do you agree that F1 should move to one hour practice for all rounds?
- No opinion (0%)
- strongly disagree (59%)
- I slightly disagree (20%)
- I neither agree nor disagree (4%)
- I somewhat agree (8%)
- I totally agree (10%)
Total Voters: 126
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