Liam Lawson, AlphaTauri, Spa-Francorchamps, 2022

Has the new Friday practice rookie driver rule been worthwhile?

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Over the last two decades, Formula 1 has gradually decreased the level of testing that its teams are allowed to carry out over the course of a world championship season.

Twenty years ago, the 2002 season saw 71 individual testing events take place over the course of the calendar year – some one-day events for single teams at venues like Paul Ricard and Ferrari’s own test track at Fiorano, with others being multi-day tests with multiple teams. Now in 2022, just two three-day tests were scheduled – both taking place in the pre-season.

While teams are free to run so-called ‘previous cars’ under the regulations – meaning cars not entered in this year’s championship – the opportunity for teams to run their current cars is almost exclusively limited to the 22 grands prix weekends on the calendar.

However, this year’s F1 sporting regulations do feature a new addition. Article 32.4 c) compels teams to run “a driver who has not participated in more than two championship races in their career” at least twice during the season – one for each car in a team.

Already this year, the likes of Nyck de Vries, Liam Lawson and Juri Vips have already been given a run out in opening practice sessions. Next weekend, Alfa Romeo will run Formula 2 racer and Sauber junior driver Theo Pourchaire in the opening practice session of the US Grand Prix, while IndyCar drivers Alex Palou and Patricio O’Ward will fulfil McLaren’s two slots over the final races of the season. But is just a single one hour practice session during a grand prix weekend enough for inexperienced drivers coming through?

Nyck de Vries, Aston Martin, Monza, 2022
De Vries has driven for Williams, Mercedes and Aston Martin
Earlier this week, retired former F1 driver Pedro de la Rosa joined the Aston Martin team as an ambassador. As well as 104 grand prix starts, De la Rosa is also one of the most prolific test and reserve drivers in the history of Formula 1, having covered over 100,000 kilometres as a test driver alone for the likes of Jordan, Jaguar, McLaren and Ferrari.

Asked by RaceFans about the new Friday practice rule for 2022, De la Rosa said it was “so difficult” for inexperienced drivers looking to get seat time in modern F1 cars.

“I think that we all have to agree that it is very difficult for the young generation, the young drivers, just stepping up into Formula 1,” said De la Rosa.

“The only way really is to be thrown into an FP1 session, just to build up the speed and make sure they, first, don’t crash and make a good impression on the teams. All-in-all, it’s extremely challenging for the new generation, because they will fight against experienced drivers such as Fernando Alonso or Lewis Hamilton and they will have to deliver immediately. There’s no room for the mediocre.”

Has the introduction of this new rule been a worthwhile one, or would teams – and inexperienced drivers – be better off with a different arrangement?

For

With testing being so expensive, it’s unlikely we’ll see in-season tests returning to the regulations any time soon – especially as the calendar continues to grow. So without in-season testing, giving inexperienced drivers runs in first practice sessions is better than no runs at all.

Many teams value the opportunity to give rookie drivers a run in genuine grand prix conditions where their lap times and performance can be measured against current race drivers and provide like-for-like comparisons. It’s also great experience for drivers to gain track time in a representative session, sharing the circuit with the existing grid.

With each team compelled to replace each race driver at least once during the season, all 20 drivers will miss at least one practice session during the season. Not only does this new rule ensure fairness, it means each team knows they will not lose out track time to their rivals over the course of the season.

Against

Even though, as Pedro de la Rosa points out, modern rookie and reserve drivers benefit greatly from simulator work that did not exist back in his day, there is no replacement for actual track time in a current-spec Formula 1 car.

The new rule may mean every team must run inexperienced drivers during the season, but how much can a single hour of practice truly benefit a rookie driver – especially if that session takes place in the wet or is disrupted by red flags? With only six days of testing this season, a lot is asked of inexperienced drivers stepping into race seats with minimal cockpit time.

There are also loopholes with the rule. As a rookie, Zhou Guanyu’s first practice session in Bahrain technically fulfilled his own requirement for the season, meaning Alfa Romeo only have to offer Pourchaire a single outing for the rest of the season. Rookie drivers deserve more track time before being asked to race in F1.

I say

It’s unrealistic to expect that Formula 1 will decide to offer more testing opportunities in the age of the budget cap. Without that, having young and inexperienced drivers being given the chance to take part in practice sessions is a cost-effective compromise.

Making the free practice runs compulsory rather than discretionary ensures that the top teams do not have to worry about compromising their race drivers’ track time when they may be racing for wins and even a championship. Teams have freedom to choose which of the rounds they will replace their drivers with a free practice driver, meaning there can be no complaints about it inconveniencing them through the season.

With every team now having their own young driver academy programme – or affiliated with one – this rule is a good way for teams to put multiple drivers to the test to help them judge who they think they may want to promote into a race seat in the future. Adjusting or removing the rule could only end up reducing the opportunities for younger drivers to test themselves in current F1 cars in an era where there are such heavy restrictions on how teams can run their current car or even their car from a season before.



You say

Do you agree that the Friday practice rookie driver rule change for this season has been a positive one?

  • No opinion (5%)
  • Strongly disagree (8%)
  • Slightly disagree (6%)
  • Neither agree nor disagree (10%)
  • Slightly agree (42%)
  • Strongly agree (29%)

Total Voters: 77

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Author information

Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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  • 22 comments on “Has the new Friday practice rookie driver rule been worthwhile?”

    1. Neither agree nor disagree, but ultimately somewhat unworthwhile as most teams have left fulfilling their respective obligations so late that they might run out of suitable circuits for sacrificing a full-time driver’s practice time.

      1. @jerejj Wait why is everything in bold face.

        I do agree, F1 teams don’t really care about fostering/developing young drivers, they just want the next Max Verstappen to drop straight into their lap, and if that doesn’t happen, they’re out.

        1. @wsrgo This boldface thing mysteriously appears on Racefans.net articles every now & then, but I agree with your relevant point.

    2. I think it has been a positive rule.

      Some teams although made the reserve drivers drive the cars at very muted speed. Maybe crash damage can be covered by F1 for reserve drivers so that teams allow them a proper outing.

    3. Nyck de Vries arguably owes his race seat to it, so it’s hard to argue against it.

    4. You’re either good enough to get a race seat or you’re not.

      I couldn’t care less for this rule, nor for the question if it’s working.

      1. That’s a very short-sighted opinion.

        How are teams supposed to tell if young drivers are good enough for the seats if they get 0 track time in actual F1 cars?

        1. I don’t care for drivers ‘good enough’ for F1 seats. There’s a dime a dozen of those, and not a one is worth losing sleep over.

          I care for Championship-level talent, and I cannot remember the last person of that calibre that required a free practice outing to get a foot in the door.

    5. It could have been even more beneficial if teams had really made use of it.

      For some reason Alpine chose to not run Piastri. – I, sure that had an impact on his contract consideration.
      Similarly, Mclaren are using as a US marketing initiative and not really as a driver test.
      Multiple teams using the same driver? Again how many have missed out because of it.

      The upside is Devries has a seat next year, most likely because he’s been able to demonstrate his suitability, so there’s been some benefit but IMO it could have been used better.

      1. @dbradock in the case of Alpine and Piastri, they stated back in July that Piastri was going to be given an FP1 practice session at either the Belgian GP or the Italian GP – it seems their preference was the former, but the Italian GP was being lined up as a reserve slot given the unpredictable weather at Spa.

        Their plan was to prepare Piastri with private test sessions that they ran for him earlier in the season with their 2021 car, so he could then make his debut for them after the summer break. That didn’t happen because Piastri decided to sign with McLaren first, so the planned FP1 sessions were scrapped – but, had Piastri not signed for McLaren, he would have driven in at least one FP1 session by now.

    6. FP1 sessions for rookie drivers has been long overdue. But I do feel that experienced reserve drivers continue to get shafted with no guarantee of seat time. Think Di Resta in Hungary 2017 – how was he ever supposed to make a decent account of himself without prior seat time?

      I can’t help but think there’s a role for the sprint races here. I reckon they should be retooled so that 2 non race drivers run an FP1 and a sprint race on selected Fridays. One of those race drivers has to be a rookie/young driver. The results of FP1 determine the grid for the sprint, and points contribute to the constructors.

      This way experienced reserve drivers and rookies all get seat time and compete against each other. It will be a good benchmark for the rookies and maybe give a second chance to an F1 driver that loses their seat.

    7. Article published too soon. We have only seen 2, when we should have seen 20. Technically Vries counts but he is too experienced for the concept.
      Everyone is exploiting the rule, I expected every team to leave it as late as possible, it gives teams’ time to sell the fp to a wealthy driver and have the fp when the championship is already decided. Rb followed the intent, they picked the best weekends for it but credit where credit is due they followed the concept, even if they should have more sessions. mercedes exploited it in the most novel way, they put De Vries early on and run him on all mercedes cars, quite clever exploitation of the rule and of a driver but in the end the joke is on merc as RB snapped him.

      1. We have only seen 2

        What do you mean?

        1. Vips and Lawson. The rule is 20 fp sessions for young drivers, 2 per team. De Vries is not really a young driver.

    8. It has minimal / too little impact. Two young driver only test after GPs would be much much more useful for the drivers.

    9. I think giving young drivers seat time in current F1 cars is a good move, However i’m not sure the way it’s been implemented has necessarily been as good as it could have been given how most teams seem to be treating it as something they have to do rather than something they want to.

      I also sort of think it’s a shame that teams have shared drivers rather than each giving a different driver a chance. It’s worked out great for Nyck de Vries driving 3 different cars but it’s a shame that it’s 2 opportunities taken away from other drivers.

      I know that with cost savings and stuff now it’s not something they would want to go back to but I always liked what we had about 20 years ago with the 3rd car been allowed on Fridays. Vettel & Kubica benefited from that as did others further down the grid.

    10. This article might be a bit early in the season, oddly, given that we’re still to see a lot of the young drivers in practice sessions.

      I think they’ve been beneficial and well implemented, though they don’t go far enough. Nyck de Vries owes his fortune this year to his multiple tests, and there’s definitely more talent that deserves these opportunities. But most drivers will get 1, maybe 2, practice sessions which simply isn’t enough.

      How this can be improved further is difficult – do we bring back third cars on Friday practice? Or let them test on the Monday after the race to prevent teams getting excessive data to make the race weekend more predictable? Both of these are costly, and the latter would be very difficult if there was a double or triple-header event. Other options like a mid-season test removes the young drivers from the live paddock environment, which makes it harder to get contacts and impress senior figures.

      A stopgap improvement could be that Pirelli supplies additional tyres to young drivers in practice sessions, in addition to some extra track time – maybe a dedicated section at the syart/end of sessions for the young drivers?

    11. One session per car isn’t enough. First, because it only gives a theoretical 20 drivers a chance to have a mere 60 minutes in a real F1 car. And that’s not even a given if engine manufacturers nudge their underlings to run ‘their’ driver, or if a team runs the same guy twice. Second, because F1 races with fewer or shorter practice sessions are usually more fun to watch because not everything is smoothed out and optimized. In fact, Mark Webber and Fernando Alonso used to joke about finding Fridays boring, and the sprint-race weekends have shown the drivers don’t need hours of practice. There’s a good alternative: let young drivers handle all of Friday testing all the time.

    12. This season isn’t a good benchmark mostly because new rules were set and no team would spend track time at the first half of the season.

    13. Put ’em in the sprint races!

    14. I’d separate the intention from implementation. As always, this rule could do with a bit of tweaking, so it actually does what was intended (instead of customer teams renting their cars to manufacturer teams).

    15. Make every fp1 exklusive for reserve/test drivers, then that role would be a much better stepping stone into the real world, a great place to put your junior instead of just sitting on a bench waiting.

    Comments are closed.