An end to point-less practice sessions?


Days after insisting that he is not "selling the soul of F1", Stefano Domenicali appears to put the sport's heart and kidneys up for grabs.

It was inevitable that many of those fans won over by the "bitter rivalries", "Machiavellian politics", "intense drama" and "heart-stopping incidents" of Drive to Survive, might find their attention spans waning when it came to the on-track stuff.

Qualifying and the race are all very well - for the most part - but for many of those 'new fans' the three practice sessions that get Grand Prix weekends underway are really little more than - how did they used to describe it? - cars going round and round.

Never fear, Stefano has a cunning plan.

The F1 boss believes that there should basically only be one 'traditional' practice session each weekend, while the others could be made more competitive by means of awarding points or prizes, presumably for the fastest laps, number of laps, most spins or best tweet.

"I think to see, from a fan perspective, that every day there is something to fight for on the track is very important," he told members of the media ahead of the Belgian Grand Prix weekend.

"I mean, free practice is very interesting for the engineers or for the drivers," he continued, "but at the end of the day, in sport, you need to fight for something.

"There are already limitations on the calendar to have free practice outside of the racing weekend. So I will be very aggressive to have one free practice in the morning on Friday and then every time we go on the track, something to be awarded. Because in that respect, there is some action going on, people are always connected to understand what is happening.

"So this will be my input for the discussion on the future. Every time we will be on the track - with the respect of the race on Sunday, that has to be always the most important part of it - there should be something to fight for in terms of points, in terms of awards. That's my opinion.

"I would like to see any single session apart from the first, maybe, on the track to award something. This is something that I'm really keen to discuss with the drivers and the teams and of course with the FIA, because I think that will add the intensity that everyone wants to see when you are on the track."

Ignoring what the engineers or drivers might think about reducing the amount of practice time, be it points or prizes, making the sessions more competitive will also open up the opportunity for sponsorship, no mean thing for a sport that appears to continually wear a 'your name here' sign around its neck these days.

It has already been proposed that next year, when the number of sprint races is increased to six, there will be a separate 'championship' for these events, so what is next a championship for the practice sessions or could the world championship be decided by the fact that Driver X was quickest in FP2 in Qatar?

Ahead of the Miami Grand Prix, Zak Brown enthused that F1 races could be as big as the Super Bowl, and with Domenicali's words in mind how long before Liberty takes the obvious step of splitting the Grand Prix in two with a Super Bowl-style music and promotional extravaganza during the break... and don't think they won't have considered it.

While the FIA vetoed increasing the number of Sprints this year next year there will be six in 2023, and with an eye on MotoGP, which is to introduce Sprint events at every round next year, Domenicali said: "It's good that Moto GP is trying to embrace a different proposition on the weekend. As always, when you change something... I remember last year, you have people that are in favour, people that are not in favour. This is part of, as I say, the normal discussion.

"There are reasons why we are working to have a six races next year. We are working together with the FIA to finalise the details. We are ready also to work on details to change something on the extra sprint format that will be discussed in the next F1 Commission. But at the end of the day, if the people that are following the Grands Prix or the MotoGP races are happy and the promoters are happy and media are happy, I would say that the outcome should be easy to find in terms of a solution."

"What we want to discuss in the next F1 Commission is how to, let's say, make some correction on the actual sprint format to see if there is something that we can improve or any other idea."

As the bastardization of the sport continues, seemingly unchecked, it is difficult to decide what is worse, Liberty's determination to totally reshape F1 for the streaming generation while monetising every aspect of it, or the fact that the man doing the dirty work was at one time a purist like the rest of us.

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Published: 25/08/2022
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