JULY 5, 2010
Testing - why F1 needs some
It was Flavio Briatore who used to put his finger to his temple and pull a funny face when he was trying to understand the amount of testing that F1 did.
You could see his point. When F1 had more than one tyre supplier, everyone realised that the contact patch was where the gains were. Drivers pounded round and round trying one compound after another. It was tedious and, by and large, they hated it.
"You go round and round, find a couple of tenths, and so does everyone else, so you're back to square one. Nobody's watching and it costs a fortune. Tell me why we don't have more races and make Friday a test day if that's what people want," Briatore said.
It was hard to fault the logic and when the recession hit F1 and common sense prevailed, it was testing that got the chop. The move to a single tyre supplier had removed the competitive element to that from the rubber point of view and teams learnt to cope without running round and round Valencia, Barcelona and Jerez validating the latest batch of aero components from the wind tunnel.
But was it sensible to go from wall-to-wall testing between each and every Grand Prix, to none at all?
How do young up-and-coming drivers get experience in the cars? You surely don't want the situation poor Jaime Alguersuari faced in Hungary last year, where the first time he'd driven a Toro Rosso was in free practice.
Then there's the mechanical side. Fair enough, you get a set number of straight line days when anything new can be checked out, but it's not like a test day.
Look at the current situation, with everyone trying to debut 'blown' exhaust systems during the season in order to get more downforce from the diffuser by blowing exhaust gases through it. Obviously, you are going to incinerate parts that are not used to being incinerated - including tyres and suspension components. Would not a couple of test days be sensible?
Take Mercedes at Valencia. The team had to go backwards with some of the modifications they'd made to the car, as well as still struggling with tyre issues. They were separate issues. It was actually the inability to heat the tyres sufficiently, at the same rate front and rear, that was causing the performance problem, not the exhausts overheating the rear tyres, as some thought.
"It wasn't the tyres overheating it was some of the components," Ross Brawn explained. "We had to increase the level of insulation. And, given they were aerodynamic components affected, it didn't help. It's the challenge everyone faces with these regulations. We can't test and so you have to test on Friday at the track. We saw some problems, thought we were going to solve them overnight but we faced the same problems again on Saturday and had to do some further modifications. We think we're on top of it now but it hasn't helped the performance."
Brawn, like many of his contemporaries, thinks that F1 should reintroduce testing but at a restrained, sensible level.
"We should look at it carefully," he says. "I don't think we want to get back to having separate test teams because that's a step change in the costs, but if we can look at adding on some testing around races, or post races, I'd be for it.
"For instance, with the new tyre supplier (Pirelli) we're looking at doing a test after Abu Dhabi and leaving a car there and having the staff stay behind to do that. I think we have to do it carefully and it raises issues in various areas. Currently we get the arguments about what's a test and what's not a test, all that type of thing, so I think there's an argument for a modest amount of testing within controlled conditions without taking on another crew and another car with all the expenses that goes with it."
It's not just Ferrari that got everyone a little hot under the collar when they used a filming day for Fernando Alonso to run the recent updated chassis at Fiorano (the first time the Spaniard had driven the current car there). Mercedes and Renault also prompted some muttering earlier in the year.
In Valencia, McLaren's Martin Whitmarsh, asked whether he would be doing a 'filming day' before McLaren debuts its blown exhaust system in the forthcoming British GP, said with a wry smile: "I didn't think that the testing regulations needed clarification but for some they clearly do... We will clarify the regs and given that I'm calling for that, we will not be doing a filming day! We will be doing a straight line running day and will consume one of those days - I think that's a fairer thing to do.
"I think there should be more testing in F1 but we have some regulations which I think most of us thought were quite clear. Formula 1 is a very competitive business and people are going to try and take advantage of any perceived ambiguity. It isn't ambiguous in my English interpretation but others obviously thought it was, which is why we need to remove that ambiguity.
"I think a little bit of testing would be the right thing. We had to take significant measures given the crisis of the world economy but I think now, as we can see and feel signs of things improving, then I hope we can go back to testing. Formula 1 is about running cars and I think drivers enjoy testing, teams enjoy going testing and teams enjoy developing cars. I think it's a good thing to do and progressively, as the health and well-being of the teams develop, then hopefully we can do some."
What does he believe would be a happy medium?
"One or two tests in the year of maybe two or three days single car testing where I think it just gives you the opportunity to get on top of things."
Ferrari's Stefano Domenicali, meanwhile, straight-batted questions about his team's suspect filming day: "I think the filming day was pretty clear but if people want to be more comfortable there are discussions in order to tidy up the wording and I have no problem with that - 100%."
The new teams, of course, might baulk at the thought of budgets going up even further given that the budget caps that enticed them in didn't materialise in the form they were first mooted.
"From a purely engineering point of view, if we don't have testing we have to compensate with rig testing and analysis," says HRT's technical chief, Geoff Willis. "The mistake, for me, is that while it was sensible to stop unrestricted testing, a better balance would have been to have certain fixed testing times common to all teams and wrap up a commercial operation around it. You have to remember that there are often fairly large gaps when there is no F1 in Europe and we could have one test in Spain, one in Italy, one in the UK, something like that. The downside is that to do that, unless the calendar was particularly sympathetic, would mean going back to requiring an additional test team. It would probably take a couple of years to work out but from an engineering point of view it would be nice to have some testing during the season."
With a new tyre supplier in 2011, the return of KERS and new moveable rear wings, it might be more than just nice, it might be imperative. Just a thought...