What is really behind Domenicali's "cancel" F1 practice comments

Formula 1 CEO Stefano Domenicali raised some eyebrows at the weekend when comments he made suggested that he was looking at scrapping Friday practice sessions at grands prix.

Stefano Domenicali, CEO, Formula 1

During a visit to the opening round of the MotoGP season in Portugal, Domenicali was interviewed by Portuguese channel SportTV for his thoughts on various topics.

But it was one remark that caused a stir as it suggested that he was looking at a bold shake-up of the F1 weekend timetable.

"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 told the broadcaster.

With F1's owner Liberty Media not afraid to push new boundaries when it comes to overhauling the grand prix format – having introduced sprint races – Domenicali's remarks inevitably triggered thoughts of something bolder being planned.

However, the possibility of F1 getting rid of practice sessions completely is something that would be unpopular with competitors and fans.

Practice remains a vitally important part of a grand prix weekend, as it is essential for drivers and teams to work on set-up and tyre strategies prior to the competitive elements of qualifying and the race.

Furthermore, with in-season testing banned, the Friday sessions are critical for allowing teams to try out new developments in the bid to help move them closer to the front of the grid.

For fans too, solid attendances at events on Fridays show that there is an interest in seeing cars running extensively throughout the day even when there is no reward up for grabs.

Domenicali's comments should not be interpreted as F1 pondering the removal of practice sessions completely though.

Instead, it is understood that it is more about ongoing discussions that are taking place at F1 Commission level regarding potential future changes to the grand prix weekend format to help make the current amount of running more exciting.

There is an argument that on a typical grand prix weekend, three practice sessions are too many.

Alex Albon, Williams FW45, Nyck de Vries, AlphaTauri AT04, Zhou Guanyu, Alfa Romeo C43, Nico Hulkenberg, Haas VF-23, practice their start procedures at the end of FP1

Alex Albon, Williams FW45, Nyck de Vries, AlphaTauri AT04, Zhou Guanyu, Alfa Romeo C43, Nico Hulkenberg, Haas VF-23, practice their start procedures at the end of FP1

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

The concern is it gives teams almost an excessive amount of time to hone their set-ups and strategy for qualifying and the race, and therefore remove any potential jeopardy that comes from being under-prepared.

One of the successes of the sprint weekend format is that the reduction in practice running, with just a single session before qualifying, has added a greater intensity to the event.

Teams and drivers feel more on the back foot and that means the chances of slipping up are greater, something that makes things less predictable.

What Domenicali is really referring to with his comments is whether there are ways that F1 can revise its timetable to make more sessions count for something over a weekend.

It is a topic he was open about last year when, in an interview with Corriere della Sera, he talked about ideas like awarding points for topping practice sessions, or introducing a shoot-out format.

"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 told the Italian newspaper.

"We are putting a lot of things on the table. A lot of people say no, but we have seen on some occasions the beauty (of mixed grids delivering) more overtaking."

F1 has already talked about shifting the sprint weekend format, to do something better with the almost meaningless Saturday morning free practice session that takes places after qualifying but before that afternoon's shorter race.

Carlos Sainz, Ferrari SF-23, Oscar Piastri, McLaren MCL60

Carlos Sainz, Ferrari SF-23, Oscar Piastri, McLaren MCL60

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

One way to do it would be to have Saturday's running as a complete standalone.

So Friday afternoon's qualifying session would decide the grid for Sunday, while Saturday would feature a timed session in the morning to decide the starting order for a points-scoring shorter race later that day.

While adopting the sprint format everywhere is not on the agenda, for the more regular weekends, F1 could look at offering points for topping practice, which would help add some interest for fans and make the sessions more engaging.

But such a switch would not be without its critics, as it would move F1 far away from the traditions of the championship.

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It could also open up the risk of a world championship being decided on a quiet Friday, rather than on race day, if a driver needed just a single point to put himself beyond the reach of his rivals.

Nothing is set in stone just yet, and the discussions about what to change are far from nearing a conclusion, but what is clear is that Friday running is here to stay.

The real issue is how much practice is the right amount for suiting what can be conflicting demands between what the teams want and what is good for the spectacle.

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