F1 considers cancelling Friday practice sessions


F1's technical boss Ross Brawn has revealed that he is considering cancelling Friday practice sessions to cut costs for the teams and enable them to go to more races according to a report for Forbes by Christian Sylt.

Friday practice is a highlight for many F1 fans as it usually offers the cheapest tickets. Silverstone is already selling tickets for the Friday of next year's British Grand Prix at 75 compared to 155 two days later. That price structure could get the red light in future if F1's owners, Liberty Media, get their way.

The teams' contracts commit them to compete in all of the races but the hurdle with adding more to the calendar is that it increases their costs and staff have to spend more time away from home.

"The teams have logistical issues the more races we add," says Brawn. However, he adds that "one of the things we are doing is looking at the format of a race weekend to see if we need to change that to make it logistically easier for them to do more races. So we have got a very open mind about how we go forward.

"I think the core race is still, for me personally, very important. We are not looking at changing the core event but, open question, do we need Friday running? Because if we didn't have Friday running we could do more races because logistically it is better for the teams. But Friday running is important for the promoters and the broadcasters. How do we find the right solution?"

There will be 21 races next year with the return of the French and German Grands Prix. F1's governance contract allows it to host up to 25 every year but Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull Racing hold a veto as they were the top three teams over the four years to 2012 when their contracts were being negotiated. F1 company documents reveal that consent from the majority of these three teams is required "if there are more than 20 Events in a season or more than 17 Events are held in a season and the number of Events that are held outside Europe, the US or Canada exceeds 60% or more of the total number of Events in that season."

In addition to sharing in the same prize fund as all the other teams, Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull Racing also get a special bonus which comes to 7.5% of F1's underlying profit. It means that the more races there are, the greater the sport's profit and the more prize money they receive. It gives them an incentive to agree to more races which could in turn see the end of Friday practice. However, it's not a done deal.

One of the places that Liberty has said it wants to add races is its home country of the United States. F1 has been trying for decades to get new races there but money is usually the sticking point. Liberty has singled out cities like Las Vegas, Los Angeles and New York as being ideal venues but they don't need F1 to attract tourists so it is unlikely that governments will put money behind races there.

There are rumours that Liberty could offer cut price deals in key US cities to get races off the ground but this would boost the teams' costs without an increase in F1's profit and thereby their income. It remains to be seen whether Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull Racing would go along with that.

F1's spending has accelerated under Liberty. Staff numbers in London are on track to double, it has moved into a flashy new headquarters in one of the most expensive areas of the capital and a New York office is on the cards. This spending increases the company's costs and reverses the teams' share of the profits. Some of them are reportedly unhappy about it.

A March article in the Telegraph revealed that Liberty's chief executive Greg Maffei had cautioned "in the short-term we are unlikely to see margin expansion because even though there are some near-term wins around things like advertising, over the longer term, there's going to be expense to achieve that." The outlook now appears to be bleaker than that.

A recent report suggested that in fact, profits will fall this year meaning that the teams' prize money will reverse by as much as 2m each. It is a drop in the ocean for the front-runners but will make a big difference to the smaller outfits.

The teams appear to have realised that Liberty is increasing F1's costs to build up the company which it owns 100% of. In turn their income decreases even though there would be no business without them. They reportedly want a discussion on whether Liberty's spending should be funded from new investment or come out of the profits.

It is a discussion which should really have taken place before Liberty bought F1 in January but it isn't too late for the teams to give the red light to its turbocharged spending plans. Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull Racing hold all the keys so the future of Friday practice sessions could also be in their hands.

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Published: 24/10/2017
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