Testing testing

For Formula 1 people a break of seven weeks between races is almost unheard of. What do they do? When you are used to jumping on and off aeroplanes every 10 days, seven weeks of doing nothing sends you walking up and down like a caged man in a cell.

For the teams, however, the speed of development within the F1 world is now such that a moment wasted is time lost against the opposition. The big word has been testing and almost everyone has dusted down their cars and sent them off to run round and round tracks, searching for those elusive extra tenths of seconds.

In recent months Ferrari has refined the art of testing into a very neat publicity stunt. With each passing week they manage to break a lap record somewhere or other, giving the impression that they are not as far from McLaren's pace as the races suggest.

In reality, testing times mean very little, for you are never truly aware what tires were being run, how much fuel the car was running and whether or not they are carrying the heavy data-logging equipment which slows down the lap times. No-one can really be sure who is quick until the cars turn out at the races.

Still Formula 1 people like psychological warfare, it adds to the pressure on the others to have to perform all the time.

If there has been one outstanding thing in recent weeks it has been the performance of the new Tyrrell 019, designed by Harvey Postlethwaite and Jean-Claude Migeot. The new front wing set-up, dubbed 'anhedral' by its designers, has found a major advantage in terms of aerodynamics. What is it? The Tyrrell men do not want to say...

Nowadays aerodynamics is way beyond the comprehension of observers. It is a black art which few understand. Improvement comes not from a radical new shape, but from an overall package of airflow around the cars. A change to the front wing will have a major effect on other ares of the car. There are high-pressure areas, there are vortices, there are unusual drag patterns. The art is to find the best compromise.

The new Tyrrell certainly works very well indeed. On a track like Imola, where engine power is the most important factor, the Tyrrell has turned in lap times which are comparable to those of a very good multi-cylinder engine, and yet the team is running Ford DFR V8 engines. Observers at the Imola testing speak of the speed at which the new Tyrrell can change direction. It will, they say, be very hard to beat on the streets of Monaco.

But what is it that the new front wing does that is so effective. No-one wants to use the term 'ground-effect', for that is a word which is out-of-fashion in the Grand Prix world, but somehow the airflow around the new Tyrrell creates suction under the car which is pulling the chassis to the ground and enabling it to corner much more effectively than the other cars.

Already, across Europe, you can guarantee that other teams will have models of the new Tyrrell wing in their wind tunnels trying to work out exactly hat the secret is.

Postlethwaite and Migeot remain tight-lipped on the subject. They have been working the idea since they were working together at Ferrari and it has its roots in the aviation industry. In fact the secret Tyrrell project was called F16, because of its likeness to the same principles used in the F16 fighter plane.

Jean Alesi, of course, can only profit from the new car. He is a young driver on the crest of a wave. In F1 to have momentum in one's career is vital. Your actual achievement is not as important as your perceived progress. A year ago the name of Ivan Capelli was on everyone's lips after a series of good performances in the Leyton House March at the end of 1988. Today he is rarely mentioned in connection with a good drive. Yet his driving skills have not diminished. Such is the way of F1, like an actor you are only as good as your last performance. Right now Alesi is the man going places, if he continues to perform as he has so far this year the chances are that he will find a place in 1991 at Ferrari. If things go wrong he will be forgotten again.

To this extent F1 is a very narrow-minded world. To be good is not enough to make it into the big time, you have to be extraordinary all the time.

Comparisons too are rarely fair. Because Alesi is making the headlines, almost everyone has overlooked the performances being shown by new F1 newcomers this year: Eric Bernard and Aguri Suzuki. Both have proved, without any real experience, that they are capable of qualifying and running towards the front of an F1 grid, but because Alesi is there, they are being forgotten.

To my mind, Alesi is a very fine young driver, yet at the same time Eric Bernard is his match. If you go back to the junior formulae -- something which F1 people rarely do -- you will see that Eric and Jean have been racing together since they competed together to win the celebrated Pilote Elf scheme at Paul Ricard. On that occasion Bernard won. A year later in Formule Renault Eric again beat Jean. In F3 and F3000 Jean managed to get the upper hand and his dramatic arrival in F1 has only increased his reputation. Bernard may have to wait a little longer for his success to come, but I have a suspicion that in the years to come the Bernard-Alesi duel will continue.

Having said that a few years ago Yannick Dalmas seemed to be the man who was going to sweep all before him. What happened to his career?

When you boil it all down, the answer that talent is not enough. You have also to be very lucky...

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