The Guide

05. Practice, Qualification & Sprint Races

Practice and Qualification 

Formula 1 runs two event formats, a standard race weekend and a second with a sprint race added. In 2022 there are six sprint races scheduled. 

The standard race weekend is structured with three free practice sessions, FP1 and FP2 on Friday and FP3 on Saturday morning, Qualifying on Saturday and the Sunday race. The sprint race format has FP1 and Qualifying on Friday, FP2 and the Sprint on Saturday and the race on Sunday. Qualifying in the place of FP2 sets the grid for the Race on Sunday, and a Sprint Shootout in the place of FP3 sets the grid for the Sprint held on Saturday afternoon. 

Free Practice 

Teams are only allowed to test their cars on official test days, their media day and at free practice. This is primarily to ensure no one team gains an unfair advantage, but it is also to preserve the power units as they are restricted parts with a lifespan of approximately five races. 

Each practice session is an hour long and is a chance for the teams and drivers to test the car set-up concerning the unique conditions of the specific circuit. Tracks differ in many ways, including; distance, downforce levels, cornering, track surface, altitude and temperature. 

Cars will be run with aero rakes and flow vis paint to fine-tune the aerodynamics and set the car up for its optimum performance. Run plans mimicking a quali lap or long runs will be used to gather data on fuel use and tyre performance, all used to inform the team’s race strategy. 

At the same time, the drivers are finessing their race lines, testing the car’s performance in corners and setting their muscle memory to aid in consistently lapping at the car’s limit for the track. Before hitting the track, they will have spent hours in the simulator, and while these machines replicate the actual track conditions, nothing beats the real thing. 

At the end of each free practice session, the drivers will have the opportunity to practice their start, finding the clutch bite point, reacting and launching off the line.

During practice, they may take the opportunity to run a development part on the car and feed live data back to the engineering team for finessing a part for a future upgrade. 

Regulations require teams to run rookie drivers for at least two FP1 sessions per season. This is to ensure up-and-coming drivers gain experience in driving these incredible machines. Experienced young drivers from Formula 2 or Indycar are constantly amazed at the step up when they first run the F1 car. Acceleration, braking and g-force are all at another level.  

Occasionally practice will be extended by half an hour, and the teams will be required to carry out tyre tests for Pirelli. The test is blind, i.e. the teams do not know what compound they are running, and at the end, the tyres and data are returned to Pirelli so they can continue their own development. 

A driver must complete at least one Free Practice session to participate in quali. 


Qualifying is the process whereby the start grid order is determined, with pole position being the best spot on the grid. Although, there are occasions when the pundits will debate if position number two is a better option. It may be on the clean side of the grid, have a dry line or a better approach to the first corner

Qualifying is held over an hour and a half with three sessions, each eliminating part of the field

Q1 is 18 minutes long, and all 20 cars will set an official time. The television coverage will show the five slowest drivers in the drop zone and the 15th driver as “at risk”. At the end of the session, the five slowest will be ranked in the position they finished in and will not participate in the next quali sessions.

The final minutes of each session can be exhilarating as teams in the drop zone or the driver at risk hit the track to give it everything they have to try and get through to the next sessions. At the same time, it is not uncommon to see the faster teams set a time that they are comfortable with and stay in the garage to save tyres for later in the quali session. 

Q2 is the same again, but 15 cars will set times over 15 minutes, and the slowest five are knocked out. Again, their grid place is set by the position in which they finish the session. 

Q3 is 12 minutes long and where the top ten cars fight for their grid positions, with pole position being the goal. Mid-field teams will know where their potential lies and aim to achieve the best they can. You will hear them say something like, “P6 or P5 is realistic, but we are going to give it everything”. And occasionally, the stars align, and they secure a higher spot than predicted. 

The fastest driver during qualification achieves pole position and receives an award. They will also be interviewed as part of the media programme.

Sprint Weekend

In 2021, F1 introduced a sprint format to provide additional race action over selected weekends. The sprint race is a 100km dash and takes approximately half an hour.

Points are awarded for both the Driver’s and Constructor’s titles. 1st – 8, 2nd – 7, 3rd – 6, 4th – 5, 5th – 4, 6th – 3, 7th 2, and 8th – 1.

This exciting F1 Sprint Race is one-third race distance, with the top eight finishers earning points toward their championship standing. No fastest lap points are awarded.

Traditional qualifying, normally held on a Saturday, takes the place of FP2 on Friday, forming the grid for Sunday’s Race.

The sprint replaces the Saturday Qualifying, and in 2023, the grid is set by the new SPRINT SHOOTOUT held on Saturday morning (SQ1 12 minutes, SQ2 10 minutes, SQ3 8 minutes.)

2023 will see the sprint format held in Azerbaijan (April 29), Austria (July 1), Belgium (July 29), Qutar (October 7), Las Vegas (October 21) and Sao Paulo (November 4). 


F1 is highly regulated, and the rules must be followed. During all sessions, the drivers must follow the marshals’ instructions, which are communicated with coloured flags and lights around the circuit. 

A driver on a warm-up lap or cool-down lap must move out of the way of a driver on a flying lap

If cars cross the white line and go beyond the track limits on predetermined corners, their time will be deleted. This is to ensure that an advantage is not gained. 

Teams receive an allocation of tyres and market their own selections month in advance. They need to manage the use of the tyres to provide maximum grip for an optimum quali lap while maintaining enough new tyres to suit their race strategy. 

Within three hours of the end of Quali, the cars are placed into parc fermé, which means they can not be worked on or have any parts changed. The exemptions here are repairs or minor, approved adjustments made under the watchful eyes of FIA officials. Read more about parc fermé at – here


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Andrew Burden

The author Kiwi F1 Fan

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