After recognizing the benefits of shortened practice sessions at several belatedly-scheduled events in 2020, the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) has decided to officially reduce practice times for Formula One’s 2021 season.
In the past, F1 drivers were given two 90-minute practice sessions on the Friday of a race weekend. Now, they’ll have two 60-minute sessions instead. Practice on Saturday, already 60 minutes long, will remain unchanged.
The original plan for Friday sessions was to scrap one of the two practice sessions entirely, leaving the morning open for media activities. We might still see that plan introduced in the near future, but the FIA has opted to postpone its introduction until 2022, when F1 will also be revamped with a whole new set of technical regulations.
Shaving an hour off the Friday practice sessions likely won’t dramatically change the complexion of a race weekend. If you’ve ever actually sat through an entire Friday session, you’ll know that cars aren’t on track during the entire 90-minute period. Teams like to wait until the weather is optimal, reminiscent of race day conditions. They like to preserve their cars. They like to tune them in perfectly, then call it quits.
A two-day weekend, as previously proposed by the FIA, with one practice session before qualifying, would likely be a more dramatic change. Even 2022's reduction—only two sessions—will probably have more of an impact. But it’s a step forward. A team really struggling will have less time to figure things out. A car that crashes will have minimal time to be repaired and sent back out on the track. Inclement weather will have much more impact.
There were several other things to note about the updated sporting regulations:
- COVID-19 prevention measures will still be taken
- Teams are no longer able to request a customized number of compounds from Pirelli; the tire manufacturer will supply an equal amount of each compound to each team
- Teams are limited to 60 people working on the cars, with 90 people total allowed in the paddock
- Guests may be allowed in the paddock; that will be announced before the race depending on local COVID-19 measures
- Curfews will dictate when every member of the paddock must be in their hotel rooms ahead of and during the race weekend
- The record 23-race schedule is expected to continue unchanged