Are free practice sessions really worth it?

Are free practice sessions really worth it?

In the last few days, people started commenting and arguing about F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali's takes regarding free practice sessions.

The Italian stated that he would like to remove free practice sessions from race weekends since he believes that the fans don't like them and aren't that useful for the spectacle of the sport since there is nothing up for grabs.

"I am a supporter of the cancellation of free practice sessions, which are of great use to the engineers but that the public doesn't like," he said in an interview during the MotoGP weekend in Portugal.

It is no news that, lately, Formula 1 has been experimenting with new formats to improve the show. For instance, sprint races and the latest idea for qualifying. The latter consists of each team using hard tires in Q1, then mediums in Q2, and soft in Q3 (this concept will be used only on a couple of occasions this season).

However, Domenicali's words shouldn't be misunderstood. He didn't want his comments to lead to people thinking that Formula 1 is aiming at removing free practice sessions completely. Rather, it seems that discussions are being made to slightly change the weekend's format in order to increase the spectacle even more.

The main "issue" appears to be that three free practice sessions are too many. Why's that? Because teams have too much time to correct any minimal mistake and arrive on Sunday fully prepared, with fewer chances of unpredictability and, therefore, less show for the fans.

So, how would Domenicali like to change the structure of a Formula 1 weekend? His main idea is to award points in more sessions, not only the race. For example, he would give points to the driver who tops FP1 and so on.

"In a normal weekend, the one consisting of free practice one and two on Friday, each session should be awarding either points or single qualifying laps, or a qualification for a different and shorter Saturday race, instead of the third free [practice], perhaps with the mechanism of the reverse grid," he explained last year in an interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

Following his comments, many people on social media and online have shared their thoughts regarding the matter. Therefore, here's what Luciano and I [Davide] think. We will fully analyze the pros and cons of free practice and give you our own opinion.


Foremost, Domenicali said it right, free practice sessions "are of great use to the engineers." Thanks to them, the team can set up the car, understand if new parts work or not, study the strategy for the race, and adjust minor details. Moreover, not only are they useful to engineers, but also to drivers. When coming to a new track or when driving a completely different car from the previous one, they need to get used to it and understand the handling. Plus, these sessions are helpful especially for rookie drivers, that need even more time to adapt.

Furthermore, since pre-season testing has been hugely limited and in-season testing is banned, free practice sessions become even more beneficial for the entire team.

I appreciate a lot the effort that Formula 1 has been putting in the last few years to improve the sport every season. I like the new technical rules that allow the cars to follow each other more closely, as well as the budget cap regulations that aim at reducing the gap between top teams and the bottom ones (even though this had some complications), and also the new sprint format, which adds one race to the weekend.

Not only that, but I think change should always be accepted, but with the humbleness of understanding whether something different works or not and if it doesn't, go back to how things were before. On the other hand, I also understand those that follow the sport since they are kids and are now grown-ups and find it hard to change the root of an evolving sport.

To add to Domenicali's comments regarding the allocation of points during free practice sessions, I do not agree. It would be too simple for a competitive team to do all the work needed to understand the car and find the right setup for 55 minutes, and then in the last five set the fastest lap and easily claim free points. Moreover, there's the risk of a championship being decided on a Friday, thus removing the spectacle of the Sunday's race, which would bring the opposite outcome of the idea of adding more show.

However, the intention of running just two free practice sessions that will create the grid for a shorter race on Saturday might be a valid addition to try during some race weekends in the future, just like it happened for sprint races.


Like many fans, I often miss the practice sessions. Living in the Americas has the disadvantage of having most of them in the morning, making it impossible for me to follow them on Friday when I have other priorities. I don't think that the sessions are as important for the fans as they are for the teams and drivers, despite a few exceptions that rarely occur during the first two sessions.

As a driver, you want to be out in your car and improve your time on the track that you're going to compete at. As a team, you want to collect as much data as possible to improve and optimize your setup.

I can understand Formula 1's objective of increasing the show for the followers of the sport, but the heritage should also be respected. The main event in any race weekend is the Grand Prix on Sunday, which is the one everyone awaits with anticipation and excitement, hoping for the team they root for to perform better than the rest, or, at least, to improve from the previous race. The practice sessions and qualifying allow for said emotions to build up until the big show comes, filling the hours with speculations until it's time for lights out.

It's also worth noting that the sport already experienced significant changes to its format. Initially, we had the introduction of the Sprint races, which remove a practice session and add a short race that decides the grid for Sunday. Then, the FIA shortened the practice sessions by half an hour.

In regard to the points - awarding them during practice sessions would decrease their sense of value and challenge. As Davide said earlier, the introduction of such a change won't make a big difference in the sessions. Maybe Domenicali is expecting the drivers to race each other and/or risk it all during practice with the objective of obtaining the extra point - but, unless it is of greater importance for the championship, it is unlikely to happen.

I would not be against running more Sprint format weekends in the future, but, personally, would not make any further changes to the sport as it is right now.