F1 Practice Sessions: A Comprehensive Guide to How They Work

The standard Formula 1 Grand Prix weekend spans three days, with practice kicking off the action. On Friday, as the exciting race weekend begins, there are two one-hour practice sessions held throughout the day – Free Practice 1 (FP1) and Free Practice 2 (FP2). These sessions provide teams and drivers with the opportunity to become familiar with the track, fine-tune their car setups, evaluate tyre performance, and gather crucial data to enhance their performance.

The following day, the action continues with the final practice run, FP3, which marks the beginning of Saturday’s activities. This session offers teams and drivers a final chance to perfect their setups and make any last-minute adjustments before the crucial qualifying session later in the day, which sets the grid order for Sunday’s race.

Practice is essential in Formula 1 as it allows teams to refine their car setups and ensure everything is optimized before parc ferme conditions begin, which marks the point when most work on the car is prohibited. It is particularly crucial for new races on the calendar or races returning after a hiatus where there’s no recent data to draw from.

For example, the 2023 Las Vegas GP and the return of the Shanghai International Circuit after a five-year absence due to the COVID-19 pandemic presented unique challenges for teams. Every practice session was crucial for gathering data and understanding how their cars would perform under the new conditions.

The pressure was further amplified by the introduction of the Sprint format in 2024, which featured a condensed schedule with limited practice time before qualifying. Despite surprises in practice sessions and qualifying, the reigning champion Max Verstappen ultimately dominated the weekend.

F1 has also made changes to the format of Sprint weekends for the 2024 season onwards, with Sprint qualifying now taking place on Friday following the only free practice session of the weekend. The Sprint race remains on Saturday, preceded by traditional qualifying that sets the starting order for Sunday’s main Grand Prix.

Although the Sprint race has become its own standalone event, points gained still count towards the overall standings in Formula 1. The changes aim to add excitement and unpredictability to the race weekends while maintaining the competitive spirit of the sport.