Practise Comes Perfect

Since the BBC regained the rights to the Formula One coverage for the 2009 season, we have been able to experience the Friday and Saturday practise sessions in a number of ways, be it online, on the radio or on ‘the red button’.  In a stroke of luck, this coincided with the ban on in-season testing, which has helped to turn practise into a spectacle itself.

The lack of testing during the season means that the two Friday practise sessions are now the only opportunity the teams get to try out new components and setups on their cars.  A few years ago, teams would have tested all new parts to destruction at their own tracks, and the practise sessions would have been used for tweaking car setup and letting drivers learn the tracks.  The increasing use of simulators by most of the teams means that drivers already know the tracks when they arrive, so have much less work to do in this area over the actual weekend.

This means that practise sessions throw up a lot more excitement than ever before, with drivers pushing hard while on track and taking risks we wouldn’t have seen in previous years.  This early action can influence the whole weekend, as Fernando Alonso found out in Monte Carlo when he put his car into the wall during P3 and was forced to miss qualifying.  Missing a practise session can leave you playing catch-up all weekend, as everybody else has had extra time to work on their car, as Lewis Hamilton showed in Japan this year, when crashing out early in practise put him on the back foot for qualifying and the race.

Several teams have used first practise on a Friday to test out new drivers, as Force India have with young Scot Paul Di Resta, who has proved his pace throughout 2010, and is now in a much stronger position to look for a race seat in 2011.

The BBC’s Friday coverage has also been a revelation, with regular commentators David Croft and Anthony Davidson often able to delve into a level of technical detail that is arguably missing from the BBC’s qualifying and race broadcasts.  Several high profile commentators have been recruited to fill in for Davidson when he is fulfilling other racing commitments, and contributions from Paul Di Resta, Gary Paffett and Karun Chandok, amongst others, have been insightful and have often give a whole new perspective on issues.

While 4.5 hours of F1 before qualifying has even started might be overkill for the casual fan, it has become a hugely important part of the weekend for hardcore followers, and gives much bigger picture of the whole Grand Prix.