Formula 1 was meant to venture into an unknown this weekend with a first-ever two-day weekend, but the weather-induced loss of Friday practice at the Nurburgring kind of stole Imola’s thunder!
Still, this is the first proper two-day event, and it will pose an interesting test.
Imola’s presence on the calendar for the first time since 2006 is a direct result of the coronavirus pandemic and this format is a secondary consequence. The teams needed extra time to get from another new track, Algarve in Portugal, to Italy as those unexpected grands prix were paired back-to-back in the revised 2020 schedule.
Given F1 is interested in more two-day events in the future, this will be an interesting test. It’s a more relevant experiment than the Nurburgring was as well. Because in Germany teams had planned for three days of running and had to react and adapt to that being cut down to two.
For Imola, teams have known for a long time that there would be no Friday and a single 90-minute practice session on Saturday, and just two and a half hours between that and qualifying.
So all of their preparation pre-event for the car set-up, driver familiarisation, tyres, etc. has been done in the knowledge of how little running there will be. Which means we’ll get to see if the big teams can just do a lot more preparation with less, and retain their advantage. Or if there is potential for this kind of format to catch some teams out and thus present opportunities to others.
Even for the biggest teams, the amount of preparation is much less refined compared to normal. There’s barely any relevant data for most of the teams, if not all, because Imola is basically a new circuit. The cars are totally different to 2006, the tyres are different, and the circuit has changed too with the removal of the last chicane and the extension of various run-off areas.
There is still valuable work to be conducted on the simulator. This goes for the drivers in terms of familiarisation and also teams in terms of basic tyre wear or fuel usage calculations. But track time will be immensely valuable though because there is little real-world knowledge and barely any time before qualifying.
The 90-minute practice session will be super important to correlate the limited pre-event prep with reality, and then make the right decisions for qualifying – and of course the race, because parc ferme conditions mean major set-up choices will be committed to with two-and-a-half hours less track time then normal.
It will put a lot of pressure on teams and drivers so the different approaches will be fascinating. And practice will be a bit more entertaining than normal! If you do plan on watching, here’s a reminder of the revised schedule (CET):
Practice: 10:00 – 11:30 (Viaplay and V Sport Motor 09.55)
Qualifying: 14:00 (Viaplay and V Sport Motor 13.40)
Race: 13:10 (Viaplay and V Sport Motor 12.15)