Formula One Reduces Practice Sessions In 2021

Illustration for article titled Formula One Reduces Practice Sessions In 2021
Photo: Giuseppe Cacace (Getty Images)

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.

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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

Weekends at Jalopnik. Managing editor at A Girl's Guide to Cars. Lead IndyCar writer and assistant editor at Frontstretch. Novelist. Motorsport fanatic.

DISCUSSION

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

I both like and don’t like this. I like it as it’s going to reduce the somewhat silliness of teams having to request their compound options well ahead of races and it’ll ultimately set compounds dictated by the tire manufacturer. What I don’t immediately like about it is it’s going to really disadvantage the lower mid-field and lower end of the grid in that they’ll have a rough go at strategically handling compounds when everyone has the same cards to play. Teams like Mercedes and Red Bull can play around with their compounds as their cars are so good. Teams like Haas and Williams are often at the mercy of the most grip compounds to even have a chance to position their cars within pace during qualifying.

Personally - and I’m possibly in the minority here - I wouldn’t mind F1 going back to something that they had years ago when they used to run really high grip ‘Qualifying tires. Teams already put the absolute least amount of laps on their cars possible in qualifying anyways to mitigate car wear, so having a dedicated qualifying compound that’s of incredibly high grip but wears quickly doesn’t seem like it would be overall detrimental. Maybe since F1 runs three qualifying sessions give every driver two sets of ‘Q’ tires each weekend, making the ten that get into Q3 ultimately having to play with sets that have a few laps on them. It would mean all the field would need to switch to brand new tires for the start, but if Pirelli is going to dictate the same number of tires for a/each compounds anyways I don’t see a lot of disadvantages.