Stefano Domenicali caused a stir recently when he suggested that he was in favour of scrapping all free practice sessions during a Formula 1 weekend.
It seems that since the Liberty Media takeover, the unassuming practice session has been placed directly in the crosshairs of the sport’s decision makers.
Already it has been reduced from three to two during a sprint weekend, of which there will be a record six in 2023, and there seems there could be, eventually, even more reduction should one of the most powerful voices in the sport get his way.
The F1 president Domenicali, incumbent since 2021, suggested to Portuguese TV station SportTV he would do away with all free practice sessions, believing they bring no value to the watching public.
“I am a supporter of the cancellation of free practice sessions,” he reportedly told the broadcaster. “Which are of great use to the engineers but that the public doesn’t like.”
PlanetF1.com understands F1 has no intention of scrapping practice sessions and sources close to Domenicali believe he was misquoted.
But as a man with a 19-year stint at Ferrari on his CV, Domenicali should have known better.
Formula 1 has undoubtedly reached a level of popularity it has never before experienced and as such, there is a desire to make it as engaging, but crucially, as profitable as possible.
If there is a race on the Friday, more fans will be interested in buying tickets and as such, the price of those tickets will increase. Considering that race promoters, of which F1 is now one with the Las Vegas Grand Prix, often lose money on the Friday, it is clear to see why there is a desire to add more racing into the schedule.
The motivation behind the plan is not only cost-related but also a supposed increase in the unpredictability, but that opens the door to the almost philosophical question of what do you want from Formula 1?
Do you want to see teams and drivers operating at their absolute maximum or do you want unpredictability? If it is solely the latter then you may as well put oil slicks and banana skins on the track to make it the world’s most expensive recreation of Mario Kart.
Formula 1 teams and drivers are already under practice restrictions like no other sport. Imagine telling a footballer they can only see a football at the weekend or telling a golfer they have access to their clubs but the luxury of a ball is reserved for Saturday and Sunday.
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Ahead of a big fight, boxers will spend anywhere between 10 to 12 weeks practising and yet, a Formula 1 driver gets one and a half days of pre-season testing.
What’s more, every football pitch and boxing ring are made from the same material to roughly the same dimensions, practising on one pitch or ring should provide skills that are pretty universally transferable.
Yet in Formula 1, every track is different, from the composition of the asphalt to its corner layout and DRS zones. Each circuit provides a different challenge and if teams are restricted to just qualifying and races to learn the various traits of each, then you will more often than not have a situation where some teams nail it and some teams find themselves way off the pace.
As with any sport, the phrase ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ does not seem to be in the lexicon of the decision makers but there is a genuine argument to be made that by eliminating the practice sessions, you are offering a poorer product.
Formula 1 is seen as the pinnacle of motorsport and is one of, if not the, most technically intricate sport in the world, yet those within it are handicapped to an extreme degree. The practice session is the final chance to have a car built to produce the perfect race and surely that is what every team, driver and fan really wants.