Practice doesn’t make perfect

ONE WAS PLANNED and one was not – but two instances in the motor racing world have gone to show that practice does not necessarily make perfect.

Formula One drivers lost almost 90 minutes of track time at the recent Azerbaijan Grand Prix when the suction force expressed by a modern Grand Prix car dragged one of the manhole covers out from its hole in the road – necessitating the circuit organisers to make sure every single one of them was secured in time for the second session.

Crashes and red flags then saw the second session curtailed with less laps than some would’ve liked.

Meanwhile, at Barbagallo Raceway the Supercars’ truncated SuperNight format removed several of the usual practice sessions from the roster in order to accommodate what was basically a two-day show.

What’s more, only one practice session was held in the same conditions (under lights) as the actual races; meaning what was learned during the other sessions many not have translated perfectly to race conditions anyway.

So what effect did these two separate scenarios have on the spectacle each weekend – aside from less track time on a Friday at a Grand Prix?

Absolutely nothing.

In the GP, Mercedes dominated while in the West it was the same story of the Shell V-Power Racing Mustangs up front. Exactly the same in both instances as it would have been if the full quota of testing had been completed.

There’s a building argument that, at least at the point-end of the sport, there needs to be less practice and more actual motor racing – which is the whole reason we’re there in the first place.

2019 Spanish F1 Grand Prix
2019 Spanish F1 Grand Prix

Formula One teams employ some of the world’s most advanced computer simulators in order to develop their cars well before they turn a wheel on the actual circuit. While they will take every lap they can get, the argument that these teams and the best drivers in the world need 240 minutes of practice before they qualify is ridiculous.

Professional drivers can get a track sussed within ten laps and the teams spend so much time simulating that they should have the car setup most of the way there by the time they roll out of the truck.

However, wouldn’t it be nice that if on the odd occasion someone misses the window, we’d see a different pecking order?

At the moment practice in Formula One exists to refine the pecking order and remove any potential variables that could lead to jumbling the grid. Changing to a single, 90-minute session on Saturday ahead of qualifying and the race would be perfect, slash an enormous amount of money out of operating budgets and more than 21 days from the race track schedule.. which could be used for the new races Liberty apparently want to add to the schedule.

The issue, of course, is that at the moment the Formula 1 financial model is such that a majority of the only revenue the actual circuits get to take from a Grand Prix is from ticket sales – and that includes on Friday.

While there may not have been many people in Baku on the Friday, there were 85,000 people in Melbourne for the Grand Prix practice day and that’s 85,000 people’s worth of revenue the Grand Prix Corporation would hate to lose.

So in order to practice less and race more, F1 would have to comprehensively re-model their financial system and who knows if they can do that.

Locally, Supercars deserve praise for finding ways of making practice a slightly more notable exercise.

In the past teams would spend Friday’s sessions wobbling around on old rubber with no real benefit to the remainder of the weekend. It was incredibly frustrating to watch and for those participating because it was basically meaningless.

Now, the three-part elimination session actually puts emphasis on practice: if you’re in the top-10 in practice two, you progress straight through to the second round of qualifying and a slightly easier run through the session.

More than once we’ve seen teams throw set after set of tyres at cars to try and make it through; using their allocation of new rubber up early in the weekend and running out of good tyres for the races… which, of course, makes for better racing. Its turned those sessions into mini-shootouts which is great.

Next weekend, the Winton round has zero Friday practice what so ever – for the Supercars, at least, it’s a true two day race meeting. How that changes things – or not – will be fascinating.

The bottom line is this: If you’re reached the top of the sport you should be at a level where you don’t need to pound around for 90 minutes on a Friday to work out which way the track goes.

And if you surveyed a majority of racing fans, I bet you they’d say they would rather pay their hard-earned to watch cars actually race, rather than practicing with very little on the line.

As the sport evolves and changes to suit the current markets, it will be interesting to see if less practice, in fact, makes perfect.

Richard Craill

Working full time in the motorsport industry since 2004, Richard has established himself within the group of Australia’s core motorsport broadcasters, covering the support card at the Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix for Channel 10, the Bathurst 12 Hour for Channel 7 and RadioLeMans plus Porsche Carrera Cup & Touring Car Masters for FOX Sports’ Supercars coverage. Works a PR bloke for several teams and categories, is an amateur motorsport photographer and owns five cars, most of them Holdens, of varying vintage and state of disrepair.

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