F1 drivers and teams reflect on the recent discussions around changing the format of a race weekend and making practice more important.

Formula One CEO Stefano Domenicali has been in the news in recent time especially with regards to how a Grand Prix weekend is run. As it is, there are three practice sessions and the qualifying session and a main F1 race which is coupled with some race weekends where we now see sprint races.

Domenicali has spoken about formatting the practice session to make Fridays more viable for F1 fans. While there were stories around cancellation of practice sessions – not all but probably one – but the key discussion was about making the practice sessions much more serious to add the importance element via points or other ways.

The exact deliberations hasn’t been spilled out but even one less practice session could make things interesting in some ways. As is known, more running helps engineers to collect more data and even if a session is termed as dull by some or viewers, it is quite useful for F1 teams and drivers as testing is anyhow limited.

While the discussions continue behind the scenes, host of F1 drivers and team bosses opened up on the various points raised especially on the practice front. Tyre chief Mario Isola also added his opinion from a perspective of tyre supplier which is a key element of a race weekend.

Here’s the what they had to say:

George Russell: “I think no is the answer. Obviously the more practice you do, the more up to speed you’ll be, the more comfortable you’ll be with the car. I don’t think it’s right that Formula 1 has three times the amount of practice that you have in the F3 and F2 categories. They should be the ones to get more practice, also because they’re doing less races, they don’t get to test that often. No practice would be too little. I wasn’t in favour of the sprint races initially, but having done – how many have we done now? Six, nine, maybe over the two years? I really enjoy the sprint races and having action on a Friday, I think, is vital for all of us and also for the entertainment factor”.

“I think, just practice to dial in the car, to test things for the future. We obviously have no testing at all. I think one session is good enough for all of us to do the various things we need to try and to help develop. This is still the pinnacle of the sport and you don’t want to be just left with the car that you created at the start of the year with no opportunity to try out new things. And that is sort of the beauty, sometimes; you’ve got this 60-minute session, you can try new things, develop, improve further. Whereas if you’re going straight into a session that is points-worthy or there is a reward, you’re less likely to trial new things.”

Pierre Gasly: “Yeah, I agree with George. Definitely, three’s no needed from a driving point of view. It’s always nice, you can work on fine details on the car and really try to nail the car balance for the weekend but generally speaking, I think one, two maximum, is more than enough for us. So yeah, I kind of agree. On the sprint races I think we’ve had different feedback. I think there’s a lot of discussions on what to explore and how to increase the entertainment and the racing, so I think it’s good to always kind of question what we’re doing and kind of looking at how we can improve the format and just the whole format of the weekend in general.”

Nyck de Vries: “I echo Pierre and George’s comments. The only thing I would say is that if you make a change it will be the same for everybody. So I think in all junior series we’ve been used to actually only doing one free practice session so I think we could do with less.”

Nico Hulkenberg: “Yeah, I think it comes down to a bit your personal opinion preference. I think we have a good amount of practice now. Thinking back to what George said about the junior series, I quite enjoyed it at the time, having only 30 minutes, like in F2 and then getting thrown into qualifying. So, yeah, I think it’s a matter of personal preference and opinion. So, yeah, can discuss that for a long time probably.”

Logan Sargeant: “Yeah, I think three is definitely a lot, especially coming from F2 where you just have to take risks a lot sooner than I currently have to. So as a rookie, I don’t mind having two or three but going forward, I don’t think three is necessary. Well, it is my favourite number.”

Otmar Szafnauer: “Well, I think we need a good balance. I think we still need a bit of practice to dial in the car to get the set-up right. I think it will favour drivers that are experienced if we do reduce the practice. And, you know, it might hurt some of the rookies. So I understand what Stefano was saying in the Formula 1 Commission that we should look at every session that we’re out on track to make it interesting for the fans. And I think a practice session or two would still be interesting, even though we may do some other things.”

Mario Isola: “I agree with Otmar. We collect useful data from the practice sessions, for the usage of the tyres, possible strategies. And we need a good balance, probably. I understand also, the position of Stefano, to try to encourage sessions that are interesting for our spectators. I believe the discussion started from the role of FP2 during the Sprint events, with the cars that are in parc fermé – so, very limited possibility for the teams to react to any change. That was still interesting for us, for the tyre, but it’s not enough. So I’m sure that we can find a good solution together with the teams, they have sporting directors that are very good and discussing any small detail to try to avoid any unintended consequences. So I’m sure that we can find a good balance between the two.”

Guenther Steiner: “Yeah, what I would like to add to this one is, in Baku, we are talking about having a second qualifying at the moment. We don’t know how we do it and if we do it, so I think once we have done that, instead of FP2 on a Sprint event on Saturday morning, we do a qualifying and then we are in a situation to evaluate whether one FP, which would be FP1, enough to get out what we want and go from there and then decide what is next in making the free practice session more interesting for the spectator, because that is what we need to make it. So I think we need to take it step-by-step, get over this hurdle of how we can do a second qualifier on the weekend in the Sprint events, and then maybe go the next step, what are we doing next?”

“I think we don’t have to sort out everything in one shot now all of a sudden, not doing free practice sessions and stuff. I don’t think that’s what Stefano wanted to say. Stefano had a little bit more of [putting] his vision out there for the future, because that is, I think, what he has to do for FOM – have a vision, where are we going? So I think let’s take it step-by-step, sort that one out and then see how much practice we need to make the car safe to get enough data that you can set them up and to give Pirelli enough data so they’ve got something decent to work with.”

It could be understood in some ways that there possibly is no real need for three practice sessions as things stand. What Domenicali needs to finds is a balance that works for all parties whether its the drivers, teams and fans alike. The issue also is that he will never be in a position to satisfy everyone and people will still feel a little shortchanged if their ideas don’t bear fruition.

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