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Drivers in favour of fewer practice sessions


A number of drivers, including GPDA director, George Russell have given their support to Stefano Domenicali's suggestion that there should be fewer free practice sessions.

Speaking at last weekend's MotoGP season opener, the F1 boss reiterated comments he made last year, claiming that the current three practice sessions are of little interest to the fans and only for the benefit of engineers.

Speaking as the Melbourne weekend got underway, a number of drivers appeared to agree with him.

Asked if he feels the sport needs three practice sessions at race weekends, George Russell, who is a director of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association (GPDA), was quite clear.

"I think no is the answer," he replied. "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," he added. "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," he admitted. "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."

"Definitely, three's no needed from a driving point of view," agreed Pierre Gasly. "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."

"I think it comes down to a bit your personal opinion preference," said Nico Hulkenberg. "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."

Asked about Domenicali's feeling that practice sessions should have more meaning for the fans, a competitive element, or merely left for the purpose of dialling in the car, Russell said: "Just practice to dial in the car, to test things for the future.

"We obviously have no testing at all," he added. "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."

As for the ideal race weekend format, the Mercedes driver said: "For the benefit of the two or 3,000 people travelling around the world, having the first session on a Friday afternoon, evening so there's less pressure for teams to arrive, let's say, on a Wednesday. If you have your first session on Friday morning you need to be here on a Thursday which for a lot of the races requires flying on a Wednesday and if we can push that back to allow teams to fly on a Thursday morning... You add that up over 24 races in a year, you're getting on for almost a month extra at home or sleeping in your own bed, which is huge for everybody in this circus. So yeah, I'd say Sprint format, but just making sure that first session is delayed a bit."

"No surprises he's running the GPDA!" joked Gasly. "I think George has got a great idea. I think I support that. We're all quite keen, I think there were a lot of talks in trying to push the weekend a bit forward, having a session on the Friday and yeah, I think I think we all quite keen to do that, especially with more racing on the calendar and always more talks to add these races in the future. So definitely, yeah, keen on trying that and Friday for practice, more action on Saturday.

"I think the Sprint is definitely something to explore, as well, but just keeping the main Grand Prix on Sunday, and not changing the DNA of the sport."

As Gasly said, Russell is a director of the GPDA, which suggests that the drivers are already on board.

However, the wishes of the fans and even the hard-pressed promoters aside, what the drivers fail to mention when comparing the F1 practice sessions to those of F2 and F3 is that the junior categories do not have teams fighting a development war.

In F1, the teams need every minute of track time they can get, not simply for the benefit of the engineers as Domenicali patronisingly suggests, but in order for teams to make improvements.

Ironic that Domenicali was at Ferrari at a time the Italian team was testing at every given opportunity.

As Mercedes seeks to turn its season around, Russell, more than anyone should be aware, that his team needs all the track time it can get if it is to have any hope of closing the gap to Red Bull.

Sadly however, the guys at F1 Towers will eventually have their way. Other than the fact that the 'new breed' of fan isn't particularly interested by what is actually happening on track, certainly in terms of practice sessions, Liberty will see adding a competitive edge to every time the cars take to the track as a means of further monetising the sport, talk of "stand alone Saturdays", a separate Sprint Championship, being prime examples.

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1. Posted by kenji, 01/04/2023 11:51

"@ Defiant...."if you want to ditch most of the practice, then have a free rein on testing'. The public were never admitted to testing that issue doesn't fly. Spindoctor suggests that Mercedes needs free practice to improve their position and for that reason three practice sessions should be maintained. Forget Mercedes. They have exactly the same level of practice available as all the other teams and if they can't get it right then that's their problem and it should not in any way be justified in any way to 'help' them out."

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2. Posted by kenji, 01/04/2023 11:16

"I am amazed at the range of comments re this latest discussion point. Domenicali, in his interview with Sky, said that some preliminary talks had been held with the teams' sporting directors and some interesting ideas had be floated. Until such time as the details are published I will keep an open mind but denouncing the possible changes without details is pointless. Personally I find that three practice sessions is too much and lots of times utterly boring. No one knows what they are looking at and the times mean zip to anyone other than the individusl teams and pit lane spies! A lot of people decry the sprint races but I enjoy them simply because they are F1 cars racing. How can that be not desirable? That and the fact that the main game on Sunday is not in any way diminished."

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3. Posted by Defiant, 31/03/2023 20:13

"I agree with all the previous posts. I do however understand the F1 paddock members wanting to be home more, I really do, but that shouldn't be at the detriment of the fans, whom without, none of you would be doing what you're doing.
So in short, George is talking out of his backside for most of that interview. Spindoctor's analogy nails it for me.

I think all real fans want to see the car on circuit as much as possible. Cutting practice as well as testing bans are dumb in my opinion. If you want to ditch most of the practice, then have a free rein on the testing.

Then most of all, charge the fans less to attend race weekends (testing should be free), as they are getting to see less and less all the time."

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4. Posted by Spindoctor, 31/03/2023 11:11

"I think Russell's naivety is showing. This sounds like the Head Boy at a posh school saying what he thinks the headmaster wants.

If he wants to trail around after RBR, Ferrari & AM for the next 3 years then implementing such a system means he's likely to get his wish. I'll never say "never" but with virtually zero on-track testing, Mercedes' car cannot reasonably be expected to develop sufficiently to advance up the grid.

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5. Posted by TokyoAussie, 31/03/2023 10:04

"That’s the spirit. Keep charging more for less. "

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6. Posted by Kkiirmki, 31/03/2023 7:51

"Really??? "of little interest to the fans." There were a hell of a lot uninterested people in the grandstands today for the first two practice sessions then. Maybe everything else was closed in Melbourne today and they were forced at gunpoint to be there?"

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7. Posted by elsiebc, 31/03/2023 5:39

"Years ago when they started single car qualifying I reserved my opinion about it until I had both watched the coverage and had experienced it in person. In the same way I think drivers should reserve their opinions about entertainment factor until they watch a full season out of the car as fans. They are not qualified to make such comments."

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