The search for new testing facilities

THIS week saw the Prost team running a car at the Michelin testing facility at Ladoux. It is the first time that the facility has been used for F1 since the 1970s when Renault carried out secret tests with its prototype Grand Prix car.

Pressure to book the existing tracks and the constant need for development in F1 means that the teams are constantly looking for new facilities at which to do their testing. In search of facilities in Britain, F1 teams have tried such places as Santa Pod raceway and Kemble airfield. The car industry facilities such as MIRA and Crowthorne have also been tried while teams have gone further afield to circuits such as IDIADA in Barcelona and the Automotive Safety Centre (ASC) at Vairano, near Pavia in Italy.

At the same time the car industry has provided other opportunities for teams with the right connections. Williams helped BMW doing development work at the Miramas facility near Marseilles. And now Prost is trying out Ladoux, while Ford is planning to turn its Gaydon facility into a testing facility for Jaguar Racing.

In addition to the pressure on existing facilities there is the increasing need in F1 for secrecy as teams try to find an advantage over the opposition.

There is also the problem of weather as circuits located in northern Europe tend to be disrupted much more than those in the south. The facilities at Jerez and Estoril have long served F1 well but being on the Atlantic shore tend to have more changeable weather than Barcelona and Valencia on the Mediterranean coastline of the Iberian peninsular.

The Paul Ricard circuit near Bandol in Provence is currently being rebuilt at huge expense with the intention being for this to be turned into the major F1 testing facility in the years ahead. Paul Ricard has the advantage of being much closer to England than the Spanish tracks (which saves the teams time and money) but the tracks in the region are disrupted by the Mistral wind is unpredictable and can disrupt testing results.

The current trend towards car manufacturer and tire company facilities is likely to continue in the short term with the possibility of F1-standard circuits being developed at such places as the Michelin testing facility at Almeria in southern Spain and other such complexes.

It is perhaps inevitable given F1's growth that the bigger teams which do not have their own testing facilities will look at buying them in the years ahead. Such investments may seem massive but they may become a necessity if teams wish to keep up with the likes of Ferrari and Jaguar.

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