Just a year after it was altered to accommodate testing for teams signing up to the Heathrow Agreement and two qualifying sessions, the Formula One race weekend looks set to undergo another timetable shuffle.

This week's meeting of minds in London has seen the various team managers agree to rule out the possibility of the final qualifying session being held on Sunday [see separate story], but has also seen the two timed sessions combined into one longer one on Saturday afternoon, while the two hours of extra testing allocated for first thing on Friday mornings has been scrapped altogether.

Although the changes have still to be ratified by the World Motor Sport Council - and won't be presented there until the 15 October at the earliest - it is likely that they will be in place for the 2004 season.

As a result, each driver will now get two runs in qualifying, but in the same 90-minute slot rather than one in each of Friday and Saturday's previous one-hour offerings. According to sources, the initial running order would be determined by the result of the previous race - rather than championship positions - with the second run based on a reverse of the order after the first set had been completed. Thus it would be possible for the previous race winner to run at either end of the session, should they manage to hold on to the fastest time throughout the first half, with the slowest driver having only a short time to prepare for a second effort.

As in 2003, cars would then be returned to the controversial parc ferme area to prevent further tuning before the race.

Friday's 'Heathrow testing' session has been dropped in exchange for a cap on the number of days any one team is allowed to conduct between races. This is understood to stand somewhere between 40-50 car/days per season, meaning that each car out on track constitutes a day off the allowance. Thus each team could run two cars each day for around 20-25 days or just one car each day for the full 40-50.

The Friday morning session, which was only subscribed to by Jaguar, Renault, Jordan and Minardi in 2003, will be not be replaced, although an extra hour of free practice will be substituted for the absent qualifying session after lunch. It is rumoured that the last six teams in the point standings will be able to run a third car in both of these sessions.

However, while the teams may be happy with the new arrangements, the axing of the two-hour Friday morning session and the addition of just half-an-hour to Saturday qualifying means that race fans will get 90 minutes less Formula One track action during the weekend, almost certainly adding to the disquiet at a time when circuit admission prices continue to rise at many venues.

 

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