Formula 1: Practice Sessions - A Race Indication?

Ben AutySenior Writer IJuly 18, 2008

The consensus within the F1 community is that we cannot analyse Practice session times, and that we cannot say that they will represent who will be on the pace come qualifying or race day. I myself am guilty of saying this on a number of occasions, and I will openly admit this.

I have been quoted as saying nothing can be taken from Practice session times because there are too many factors that are changing. Teams may be holding certain things back for qualifying and race day that they don’t want out in the open in practice.

But as I watched Practice session 1 of the Hockenheim GP, I got thinking about practice times, and could anything actually be taken from them at all? The research began right after practice session 2. This article is all about my findings.

Please find below each race so far this season broken down into five sections, the three practice sessions (two on Friday and one on Saturday), qualifying and the race fastest lap.

I have not taken weather into consideration because there have only really been two races where the weather has been a deciding factor, so let’s pretend for argument's sake that all sessions where dry.

I have used the full practice session data, I have used the top 10 shoot-out data for qualifying, and I have used the DHL fastest lap times for the race data.

(Sources – /

(*** - Denotes fastest time of the Race weekend.)


  • Practice 1 - Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) 1:26.461
  • Practice 2 - Lewis Hamilton (McLaren-Mercedes) 1:26.559
  • Practice 3 - Robert Kubica (BMW Sauber) 1:25.613 ***
  • Qualifying - Lewis Hamilton (McLaren-Mercedes) 1:26.714
  • Race Fastest Lap - Heikki Kovalainen (McLaren-Mercedes) 1:27.418


  • Practice 1 - Felipe Massa (Ferrari) 1:35.392
  • Practice 2 - Lewis Hamilton (McLaren-Mercedes) 1:35.055
  • Practice 3 - Nick Heidfeld (BMW Sauber) 1:35.019 ***
  • Qualifying - Felipe Massa (Ferrari) 1:35.748
  • Race Fastest Lap - Nick Heidfeld (BMW Sauber) 1:35.366


  • Practice 1 - Felipe Massa (Ferrari) 1:32.233
  • Practice 2 - Felipe Massa (Ferrari) 1:31.420 ***
  • Practice 3 - Nico Rosberg (Williams-Toyota) 1:32.521
  • Qualifying - Robert Kubica (BMW Sauber) 1:33.096
  • Race Fastest Lap - Heikki Kovalainen (McLaren-Mercedes) 1:33.193


  • Practice 1 - Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) 1:20.649 ***
  • Practice 2 - Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) 1:21.935
  • Practice 3 - Nick Heidfeld (BMW Sauber) 1:21.269
  • Qualifying - Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) 1:21.813
  • Race Fastest Lap - Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) 1:21.670


  • Practice 1 - Felipe Massa (Ferrari) 1:27.323
  • Practice 2 - Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) 1:27.543
  • Practice 3 - Mark Webber (Red Bull-Renault) 1:27.030
  • Qualifying - Felipe Massa (Ferrari) 1:27.617
  • Race Fastest Lap - Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) 1:26.506 ***


  • Practice 1 - Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) 1:15.948
  • Practice 2 - Lewis Hamilton (McLaren-Mercedes) 1:15.140 ***
  • Practice 3 - Heikki Kovalainen (McLaren-Mercedes) 1:16.567
  • Qualifying - Felipe Massa (Ferrari) 1:15.787
  • Race Fastest Lap - Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) 1:16.689


  • Practice 1 - Felipe Massa (Ferrari) 1:17.553
  • Practice 2 - Lewis Hamilton (McLaren-Mercedes) 1:15.752 ***
  • Practice 3 - Nico Rosberg (Williams-Toyota) 1:16.555
  • Qualifying - Lewis Hamilton (McLaren-Mercedes) 1:17.886
  • Race Fastest Lap - Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) 1:17.387


  • Practice 1 - Felipe Massa (Ferrari) 1:15.306 ***
  • Practice 2 - Fernando Alonso (Renault) 1:15.778
  • Practice 3 - Nelson Piquet (Renault) 1:15.750
  • Qualifying - Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) 1:16.449
  • Race Fastest Lap - Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) 1:16.630


  • Practice 1 - Felipe Massa (Ferrari) 1:19.575 ***
  • Practice 2 - Heikki Kovalainen (McLaren-Mercedes) 1:19.989
  • Practice 3 - Fernando Alonso (Renault) 1:20.740
  • Qualifying - Heikki Kovalainen (McLaren-Mercedes) 1:21.049
  • Race Fastest Lap - Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) 1:32.150

Only one out of the nine rounds has a fastest time that wasn’t recorded in the practice sessions. That was in Turkey, where Kimi Raikkonen went fastest of anyone over the full weekend on race day.

The rest of the data shows that the fastest times clocked of the weekend were achieved in the practice sessions, and never in qualifying. Interesting stuff, I think. Maybe the teams do go all out in the practice sessions?

On race day, factors such as tyre preservation, engine/gearbox preservation, fuel consumption, pit stop strategies and qualifying fuel loads are all taken into consideration.

With all this, maybe a fastest lap isn’t possible because the driver is not pushing as hard as he would in qualifying or practice so as not to damage his finishing place.

In qualifying, Q1, and Q2 are normally done on the optimum tyres for the surface and with the lightest fuel load possible. This is the first reason why I haven’t considered them in my investigation.

Secondly, when in the top 10 shoot-out, don’t forget that the drivers are fueled for the first stint of the race which is another reason why they might not be able to go as fast due to the extra weight.

So far this weekend (at time of writing) the times look like this:


  • Practice 1 - Lewis Hamilton (McLaren-Mercedes) 1:15.537
  • Practice 2 - Lewis Hamilton (McLaren-Mercedes) 1:15.025 *** (So far)
  • Practice 3 - TBC
  • Qualifying - TBC
  • Race Fastest Lap - TBC

Taking into consideration that the fastest lap done on this track is a 1:13:780 (Kimi Raikkonen, McLaren-Mercedes, 2004) the chances of a lap being done faster than that of Lewis Hamilton’s time in session 2 are fairly slim. (Updates to follow at bottom of article in amendment as times are processed). So what does it all mean in conclusion?

Well I think that I have to retract all previous statements that have ruled out practice times. Looking at this data, it is plain to see that we can look at practice times and realise that the drivers on the pace in practising are certainly capable of fast times in the race.

Yes, I am fully aware that there are far more factors to be looked at when trying to figure out who is quick, who will win, and who will be quick in qualifying. All I am saying is the Practice sessions are a good place to start.

What do you guys think? Add Comments, Stars and POTD please.

Ben, Over and Out!

P.S. – Wasn't that a short article from me? I must be losing my touch?

Amendment 1: July 19, 2008

After the Saturday AM practice session 3, this is how it stands:


  • Practice 1 - Lewis Hamilton (McLaren-Mercedes) 1:15.537
  • Practice 2 - Lewis Hamilton (McLaren-Mercedes) 1:15.025 *** (So far)
  • Practice 3 - Heikki Kovalainen (McLaren-Mercedes) 1:15:621
  • Qualifying - TBC
  • Race Fastest Lap - TBC

So far, it's a silver weekend. Good news for me, but not so much for our Tifosi, but what can we expect from now on, though?

Looking at previous stats, Q1 and Q2 will be roughly the same as the times we have been seeing on the practice sessions. We can expect times around about 1:15:00 through to about 1:15:750. We might even get a break in the norm and see a high 1:14?

One thing I will say is that we can expect the Q3 times to be slightly slower than the practice times. Let's see if I am right.

Amendment 2: July 19th, 2008

After an impressive Q1, Q2 and Q3 here is how it looks now:


  • Practice 1 - Lewis Hamilton (McLaren-Mercedes) 1:15.537
  • Practice 2 - Lewis Hamilton (McLaren-Mercedes) 1:15.025 ***
  • Practice 3 - Heikki Kovalainen (McLaren-Mercedes) 1:15:621
  • Qualifying - Lewis Hamilton (McLaren-Mercedes) 1:15:666
  • Race Fastest Lap - TBC

So far so good and my predictions where spot on where I correctly predicted that the Q1 and Q2 times would just sneak under the norm and we would more than likely see some high end 1:14's, which we did.

Hamilton set the fastest time of the weekend in Q2 banging in a 1:14:603, pretty impressive stuff but like I said earlier on in the article we will only be looking at the fully fuelled Q3 times. So with that in mind I was still correct.

Shall I make a prediction for fastest lap tomorrow? Yes, why not... I am going to go with the following:

My heart says - Lewis Hamilton with a 1:15:200 simply because I want McLaren to get the clean sweep of all 5 fast times for this weekend. BUT... My head says - Kimi Raikkonen with a 1:15:100 making it 7 fastest laps in a row.

It will remain to be seen at the GP as to whether I am right or not, amendment number 3 to follow. Watch this space.

Amendment: July 20th, 2008

So there we have it, todays race was AWESOME, it had everything, so down to business, was my prediction right?


  • Practice 1 - Lewis Hamilton (McLaren-Mercedes) 1:15.537
  • Practice 2 - Lewis Hamilton (McLaren-Mercedes) 1:15.025 ***
  • Practice 3 - Heikki Kovalainen (McLaren-Mercedes) 1:15:621
  • Qualifying - Lewis Hamilton (McLaren-Mercedes) 1:15:666
  • Race Fastest Lap - Nick Heidfeld (BMW-Sauber) 1:15:987

Was I right? NOPE... Clearly not, but the times where spot on with the rest of the data concluding that yes, we can look at the Practice times and take a lot from them.

While we have established that obviously we cannot say who will win the race, we certainly know what pace the front runners will be going. I will be paying a lot more attention to the friday sessions from now on.