Renault boss Cyril Abiteboul recently suggested that F1 should get rid of the Friday practice sessions, saying that they’re uneventful and pointless. And you know what? I think he’s right.
Practice sessions do nothing to excite me as a fan. Why would they? The lap times mean basically nothing, the drivers are rarely pushing as much as they could, and anything you can learn from them loses a lot of relevance because by the time of the race, the track conditions are completely different.
Four hours of practice for a race that lasts an hour-and-a-half is way too much. That’s the same amount of practice WEC teams get, except their races are six hours long. In other single-seater series IndyCar typically has two hours and 45 minutes (including warm-up) for races that last around two hours. GP3 drivers get 45 minutes of practice for their two races, while GP2 drivers get just 30.
See what I’m getting at? I’m not saying that practice is a bad thing, but F1 seems to be way off in its judgement of how much they need when you compare it to other championships. A single hour-and-a-half session on a Saturday morning should be more than enough for teams.
I also think that having less practice time would also have a positive effect on the racing. If they only had 90 minutes in which to shakedown their cars, work out a setup, figure out the tyres and run a qualifying sim, then the teams would inevitably have to sacrifice some areas of their programme and focus more on others.
For instance, a team might a team might struggle in qualifying but come through the field in the race because they spent their practice session focusing on strategy and tyre wear. Or, on the other side of the coin, a team that qualifies up front might have to fight hard to stay there because they didn’t spend enough time on their race setup.
A front-running team might turn up and struggle from the outset. Without the extra time to fix the problems they could fall behind midfield teams that had everything nailed from the first lap. Things are more mixed up. And that’s good!
It would also force drivers to be more adaptable. Haven’t fine tuned the setup exactly as you’d like it? Tough. Crashed early in the session and lost all your practice time? Tough.
With less on-track time for the cars, engines and gearboxes could be pushed that bit harder – assuming the rules don’t get changed to limit teams to even fewer components, that is. The teams would hate all this of course, but they’d figure it out. F1 is meant to be the pinnacle of motorsport after all.
Then there’s the benefit to the logistics. With so many races and a packed schedule, that extra day would theoretically make moving the whole F1 circus that little bit less stressful and frantic on the guys and girls in the teams.
Of course, none of this is a guarantee, but I can’t help that feel that reducing the practice time would at least increase the chances of all of this happening. And increasing unpredictability without resorting to gimmicks like reverse grids or success ballast (shudder) can only be a good thing, right?
One argument against this is that fans at the track have less time to see cars going round on track. I fully understand that, but I think I have a solution: Procar.
In 1979 and 1980, F1 was supported by the BMW M1 Procar Championship. Several top F1 drivers of the day would compete in it – Niki Lauda won the title in 1979, while Nelson Piquet won it in 1980. Who wouldn’t want to watch a modern version of this?!
Similar to how it worked in the original Procar series F1 drivers could qualify for the event based on their performance in the previous rounds practice session (making practice actually worth watching), and they could be joined by a few GP2 and GP3 drivers, or local drivers from the country where the race is taking place.
Ok, I admit this is pretty idealistic and there are probably all sorts of contract issues between teams, drivers and sponsors that would prevent anything like this happening. But with enough planning and discussion, Liberty Media could make something like this happen.
But that’s not all they could do spice up the Friday of a Grand Prix weekend. They could make it free to attend on a Friday, encouraging locals to go along and see what it’s all about. Add to that a ‘fan village’ experience where fans could have more interaction with the teams and drivers and you’ve got a surefire way of increasing the appeal of the sport, dispelling the stuffy and elitist image Bernie did so well to build up.
So what would you rather have? A Friday dedicated to dreary practice sessions which mean everyone is over-prepared for the race, or a Friday where you can go to the track for free, interact more with the teams and drivers and watch a Procar race, followed by a less predictable Grand Prix weekend?