The Joy of a 2-Day Race Weekend
Does getting rid of Friday make Sunday more fun?
I am famously quite unprepared for things. As a character trait, it rivals my uncanny ability to be late. I was so incredibly brilliant at being late that my manager used to put me on the rota 15 minutes before I was needed, so when I turned up, I would in effect be on time. I have improved somewhat at being late, but the being unprepared is still something I'm working on. However, the chaos that arises from me being unready is often rather more entertaining than it could have been, had I been ready. Dates that I've been on, but have made no plans for have resulted in some tremendous memories, unexpected restaurant finds, and some of the brighter points of 2020 that's for sure. And I'm sure this is something Nico Hülkenberg can attest to.
"Hi Nico here, oh hi Otmar! No, I'm not busy right now..."
Nico's Saturday, 10th October probably started like mine, pretty chill and with a nice cup of coffee. Then our paths diverge, he got a phonecall from Racing Point asking if he had any plans, and I made another pot of coffee. But this isn't the only instance of being unprepared in F1 this weekend. The entire thing was thrown onto the back foot when the sensible, if restrictive rule on fog, grounded the medi-copters meaning no F1 cars were allowed out on track on Friday. This meant no FP1 or FP2, no chance for the teams or Pirelli to dial in their settings, stats or strategy. No chance to try long run form, test out the tyre compounds, see what kerbs are going to be problematic, where you can push track limits without annoying Michael Masi. FP3 rolled around with a completely fresh track, and teams running pretty blind. Of the drivers on the grid only 8 had ever been around this track in an F1 car before (technically 9 if we include Daniil Kvyat who tested for Torro Rosso, but I don't think he drove that weekend). The last time we raced around the GP-Strecke we had 11 teams, and Bottas had only just arrived on the F1 scene. 2013 was a very different time, and the cars have changed so much that any data the teams had would be largely irrelevant. And to add some more spice to the mix, the air temperature was barely going to see double figures throughout the weekend. This was going to be F1 at it's most unprepared. Or as unprepared we're ever likely to see?
2013, when F1 cars looked good and Sebastian Vettel could get on the podium.
FP3 was a bit of a frenzy, normally full of teams trying long run practices, and working to rubber in the track, it now became a race to set up a car to run in untested temperatures, on a track that they didn't know they would be racing at until the news came out in July. No one knew what to expect and it showed rather. Qualifying seemed to be fairly normal with the Williams, an Alfa, a Haas, and the last-minute entry of Nico dropping out first, the surprise of Antonio in Q2 was pleasant, but from there the top 10 was largely as to be expected in its makeup.
The race though was a strange mix of what we've come to expect this season. Mercedes and Max sprint away in the opening laps, and boy did they. At one point in the race, we saw Hamilton and Max about 2 laps ahead of Daniil Kvyat! And this was around lap 42, just as the safety car came for Lando's retirement. Asides from the seemingly unflappable Lewis and Max, the race proved more interesting if you focused on P3 and back. It was a display of a stunning defensive drive from Charles in the opening half, before making a surprising charge to 7th, not a great jump but when you consider the state of the Ferrari and that he sent it past his teammate into turn one he didn't do all that badly. Daniel Ricciardo made the most of the chaos behind him, pushing through it early on, leaving his closest rival, Perez, to struggle to pass the defending legend Charles LeClerc in his red wheelbarrow. This afforded Daniel enough of a chance to push for a few laps and then conserve his tyres. As chaos further down the grid with Norris' electrics, a punctured radiator for Albon, Bottas suffering from power unit issues, Russell getting yeeted into oblivion by Kimi, and Ocon's hydraulic issues throwing some VSCs and a fairly neutral SC into the mix. Some of the safety cars we've seen this season have proved to be key in turning a race around, think Monza and Mugello, but here it only served to un-lap the remaining backmarkers and shuffle up the back of the grid. Some low down the pack scrapping saw a few place changes and some points for my guilty pleasure Romain. I've probably glossed over some points here, and don't wish to undermine any of the work teams and drivers put in over the weekend but this finally leads me onto the point of this rambling missive. Does a two-day race weekend make for a more fun race?
YEET! - Kimi Räikkönen, 2020. Images courtesy of Mark Sutton (@F1Sutton)
Well from what we've seen here, maybe? There were a lot more technical gremlins that arose that could have been flagged up in earlier practice sessions, and because I'm basically 8 years old, I like seeing cars flying through the air, upside down, on fire. So leaving these issues undiscovered until race day does lead to a more exciting race. Compare this to the fairly dull race of, say, 2019's Hungarian GP. This weekend we saw driver's battling with machines as well as against one another. Lando Norris, fighting for position for several laps while down around 170 horsepower in a scene reminiscent of his future teammate's battle to hold on to first place around Monaco in 2018, interestingly Ricciardo's last time on the podium. We saw Lando battling with cooling tyres, a failing car, desperately trying to hold track position, and reboot a 200mph computer. A brilliant display of helmsmanship and a precursor to an excellent meme. Elsewhere we saw the un-practised turn one biting several times, with Alex Albon killing more tyres than an NHRA event, cars skimming around it on three wheels, or less if you're George Russell, that one turn proved to be an excellent dive bomb passing place, that requires a driver to hang on around the sweeping turn two and three before pinning it on the exit of four minding the limits. Grosjean was shown the warning flag for his track limit flirting as he pushed hard to stay in the points. This race seemed to bring out the most competitive, and racier in the grid. Kimi, a man who seems to only do this for a hobby, put in a brilliant performance scrapping with the still struggling Vettel for a chance to rank in the top ten.
Seb duking it out with the Alfa Romeo of Kimi Räikkönen
Maybe this was a one-off, maybe we got lucky with an entertaining race. Or maybe getting rid of all that practice and all that data gave us more of an unknown Sunday. I reckon if you left me alone with an excel spreadsheet I could come back with some solid predictions for each race based off of the Friday data alone. Looking at corner speeds, long-run stats, comparing teammates throw that all into excel and with luck you'd have some good odds to take the Paddy Power, that or an effective tracking system for a global pandemic, who knows.
Factor in that taking away practice takes away track evolution before the race. Start the race on a track that hasn't been rubbered in, watch the gaps in the tyre wear grow, strategy becomes even more vital, but then as the track evolves over the race, the race evolves too, picking up as the track does. It adds another dimension back into the sport, giving us more excitement, and the teams another unknown to contend with.
We'll know a bit more on this in two races time when we have a two day weekend at Imola. While the practice session will be half an hour longer, that's still not a huge increase in track time. So again, we'll see teams with a bit less data. The only driver to have been there will be Kimi back in 2006 (Vettel was probably there, as he was a test driver for BMW Sauber at the time). Expect more words, come the start of November, on this. I know I'm not alone in this thinking, Tom Bellingham of WTF1 fame has been quite outspoken about abolishing Friday practice, and I'm sure all of you have an opinion on it too, which I'd love to hear in the comments.
Pinched from Tom Bellingham's Twitter.