Not too long ago, a Fomula One fan could turn up mid-week to Silverstone and see at least one team testing their car during the summer months. Yet with the explosion of costs within the sport, the FIA has sought over time to restrict testing more and more to demonstrate they are attempting to control spending.
Next season, the winter testing has been cut from 12 to 8 days, and the annual pilgrimage to Jerez has been cancelled, despite that when this test has been run over a weekend, crowds of 30-40,000 fans have flocked to support their favourite teams and drivers in the Andalusian sunshine.
Now just two four day tests will take place at the Cirucuit de Catalunya, Barcelona and testing will begin in March and not at the start of February.
There are apparently two in season tests which could be agreed by the teams, but given the nature of next year’s draft calendar, it is difficult to see where these two day sessions can be inserted.
The drive away from ‘on track testing’ and toward CFD and restricted wind tunnel time, this would level the playing field somewhat for the smaller teams. Given the disparity in budgets and income distribution, this notion is farcical in the grand scheme of things.
The lack of testing opportunity is a matter F1’s tyre supplier consistently complains about. To develop relevant tyres, Pirelli needs to do representative testing with current F1 cars.
McLaren’s Eric Boullier, does not favour the cut back in winter testing. “The plan is for eight days of testing, we are not necessarily happy with that. But it’s been agreed by a majority [of teams] a long time ago so we just have to deal with that.”
Of course McLaren-Honda are desperate to problem solve the issues they have with the engine and chassis integration and on track testing for them is the best proving ground.
“Before we had some freedom in terms of testing and improving the car,” observes Fernando Alonso. “If you found your car was uncompetitive in the first part of the season, you could still end the year in a competitive way. Now we have our hands tied for the season.
“We run the car in Jerez and Barcelona for the tests and if it’s competitive you will have a good season and if it’s not you will have a bad season.”
The “locked in” season pecking order is not something the fans particularly like and Formula One has always been an in season development race as much as one which rewards new car design and development work.
Brawn hit the ground running in 2009, but Red Bull hunted them down all year – and by the latter part of the season Adrian Newey had developed by far the better car.
There is a solution to the problem of in season testing and its associated costs, though was one the fans I the recent Autosport survey rejected by a narrow margin with 51% against.
The FP1 and FP2 sessions on Friday’s at GP weekends could be revised into an all-day testing session. This would create problems for the support series, however their popularity is insignificant when compared to F1 and they would just have to adjust.
Team’s like Force India would not be forced into deciding against attending a test as they did this year in Jerez, due to the $800,000 cost – because they are already at the race weekends.
Pirelli too would have an abundance of testing time available to them – as teams could be mandated to provide the Italian tyre manufacturer with certain periods over the course of the year.
As with many things F1, this solution appears a simple one – which would satisfy most. Though whether it will ever make it through the golden gates of the Place de Concorde – is another matter.