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How Training Sessions Work in F1

It is important to do a lot of driving and gather data during a practice session.

Are Training Sessions Important in F1?

Formula 1 is the pinnacle of motorsport. With a highly technically advanced car driven by the best drivers globally, it is definitely a spectacle worth watching. Many F1 fans were excited when qualifying and the final races arrived, however, the practice sessions didn't receive as much attention as they should have and the sessions were often described by mainstream followers as quite boring.

The fact is that practice sessions are very important for F1 teams and their drivers for overall results and performance. This session is just an inevitable part of a racing weekend. When an F1 driver misses a training session due to, for example, an endurance issue or an accident, it often creates a difficult setback that usually tends to jeopardize the result in a negative way.

How Teams Prepare During Training Sessions

There are three practice sessions that F1 teams attend during the regular race weekend. Each training session takes an hour to complete.

The format is now being changed slightly due to a recent experiment. F1 decided to try a new session consisting of qualifying sprints that replaced one of the regular training sessions, more specifically FP2. This means that the team gets less time to prepare during this particular weekend. However, this new concept has only been tested in a few places at this point and is therefore not yet very relevant for the overall championship.

This article covers a regular weekend format in which three training sessions are featured.

FP1

Free Practice 1 is the first official session of the Formula 1 weekend. It is the first time drivers get to experience how cars behave on a race track. They tried different settings and eventually upgraded to a car - if such was available. The team covers all the actions and collects all the data they need for the following debrief where the strategy is decided before qualifying and the race.

Simply put, in FP1 the main goal is to get the right feel with the car and understand how the tires behave. This can vary a lot over time. Just because a race track feels good one day doesn't mean it will suit the car the next day and vice versa. All of these tasks naturally continued during the following sessions as well, however, in FP1 where the drivers built their confidence to then be able to push harder as the weekend progressed. If a driver insists on skipping this session due to a car failure or other problem, it means a major setback for the entire preparation and data collection program and driver confidence.

FP2

Free Practice 2 is much more specific when it comes to testing cars. There are two main tasks the team is trying to cover. The first is a race simulation. You might ask how it is possible to do a race when a normal F1 race lasts between 1.5 to 2 hours while a practice session only takes an hour. Teams have to do short race simulations instead. The short ones cannot completely predict the race, which in fact is never possible to predict no matter what caused by many factors like for example the eventual crash, sudden change of weather and so on. However, what it can do is show the way in which the car and its tires behave with the heavier fuel loads on board and also the differences between the different tire compounds. With this information gathered, it is much easier to make a good strategy before the race.

The second thing the team tested was qualifying performance. This one is most important for the driver himself. Getting the amazing spin of the car requires extreme concentration and proper balance. If the car is not balanced in the right way the driver will most likely struggle to perform in qualifying and therefore lose his position before the race. To qualify high on the court is not the most important thing, but it definitely increases the chances for good results in the race. There are also city tracks on the calendar where overtaking is extremely difficult and a very risky business, which makes qualifying sessions even more important at these venues.

FP3

The last practice session of the weekend was mostly used to get up to speed and try the car before qualifying. There is no point in taking any risks in this session as qualifiers usually start only about two, three hours after the last practice session receiving the checkered flag. Crashing here means that mechanics may not have enough time to get the car ready for qualifying which puts the driver at the back of the grid.

This is also the last session where changes to the car settings can be made. If the car feels unstable at this point, it's really important to get out there and do as many laps as possible to get the feeling right before the performance really starts to matter. When a car leaves the garage for the first time during qualifying, it is essentially locked and no additional setting changes can be applied to it.

Renault F1 car is getting prepared before going out on track.

Conclusion

Now you know why practice sessions are so important for a Formula 1 team. As mentioned above, these sessions are all important and together constitute a program of preparation before qualifying and the race itself. A well-executed training program means a good start to qualifying and the next race.

Prior to this year, teams had slightly longer training sessions as well as longer test days at the start of each season. With all of these aspects now significantly shortened, it basically means that every minute on the track counts and every minute the car has to spend in the garage as a matter of reorganizing the entire preparation process, both for the driver and the team as a unit.