As the desert dust settles on the 3585 laps recorded by the new 2023 Formula One cars the headline fastest lap comparisons are fading away and being replaced by more sophisticated analysis.
Each team on average completed the equivalent of just over 6 Bahrain grand prix with the fewest red flags thrown per day in F1 pre-season testing history.
The shambles that F1 testing was
The FIA has been reducing the allocated time for F1 winter testing for over a decade. In days of yore there would be 3 four day FIA approved tests and at day 1 typically held in Jerez it was often a war of attrition for the marshalls who battled to retrieve car after car as they repeatedly stopped out on track.
Only the most rudimentary facilities were offered to the written media; mostly just a smoke filled press room with a small monitor showing basic timing data.
In fact many of the employed media writers saw the Jerez event held in the warmth of the Iberian peninsula as a jolly. They were regularly to be seen playing the nearby PGA championship gold course while the stop start shakedown at the nearby circuit was taking place.
Locals appreciated drunken F1 journo’s
The local bars and Tapas restaurants geared up for Formula One testing which was a four day February highlight in an otherwise dreary time in terms of numbers of tourists visiting the area.
F1 special high octane alcohol shots were offered by some establishments who realised the close to zero degrees celsius temperatures at around 8am the next morning would not be tempting the F1 journo’s out of their beds too early.
The TV media were predominantly absent from the whole of testing with possibly the exception of just one Italian and one British station showing up to shoot some footage on day one as the new cars were revealed for the first time on track.
Three weeks later they’d turn up again in Barcelona to perform a pre-season testing wrap designed for only the most hardy of Formula One followers.
Test locations cost teams a fortune
Jerez and Barcelona are now gone from the F1 pre-season action and a more sensible location has been chosen from a logistical perspective. Bahrain offers guaranteed good weather venue, so gone are the days in the Spanish North where at times the team personnel would find their cars frozen overnight.
Also gone is the wasteful back and to from Jerez and Barcelona before heading to Australia for the F1 season opener. By holding testing at the same venue as the first F1 race weekend, the teams are saving over $500,000 in unnecessary spend.
This, the FIA would argue, was an intended outcome of their drive to reduce waste and level the playing field by reducing the excess amount of cash by which the bigger teams could outspend the others.
FIA unwittingly turned testing on its head
However, by slashing the pre-season testing time the FIA has unwittingly unleashed an interesting number of other developments worthy of consideration.
Firstly the teams now turn up with cars they know are predominantly reliable. Gone are the testing prototype mules sent out on track to inevitably break down stopping the session for half an hour. No longer do we see cars at the test that will would undergo significant modifications before the first race weekend of the season.
Instead of a month of on/off protracted testing, there are just three days then 5 days recovery before the cars hit the circuit for the first Free Practice One of the season.
F1 testing confirmation not experimentation
Testing is now more a confirmation process rather than one that was primarily experimental. Engine manufacturers now sign off their developments in December or January and submit them for several weeks of bench testing to ensure their ‘alterations’ are reliable.
Gone is the relaxed start to an F1 season where the teams would face just two or three race weekends from March until the European season begins in earnest early May. Now the season opener is slated with events every other weekend until from Barcelona the double headers come thick and fast.
Having a poor test in today’s F1 regime is now fairly disastrous as Aston Martin demonstrated in 2022. Once the Silverstone team fixed the early issues they had with their launch care, their in season development was impressive.
McLaren drop the ball ‘big style’
McLaren are the team this year who have had a poor test and may struggle to maintain a middle of the midfield position until their upgrades kick in.
The all new short, sweet pre-season test now held in the same location as the first race weekend a mere handful of days later has raised the event’s media profile by stratospheric proportions.
Where the majority of the Formula One teams are based, Sky F1 ran wall to wall coverage of all the on track sessions together with expert commentary and analysis.
The result? Gone are the days when mere headline lap times formed the basis for the majority of independent expert analysis of testing. Now the data from the combined 60 plus grand prix distances run is still being poured over long after the garage doors were raised as testing concluded.
Testing data now highly scrutinised
Red Bull were the undisputed kings of testing with Sergio Perez setting the pace on the final day some 3 and a half tenths faster than Lewis Hamilton.
However, the timing data reveals Hamilton was on a tyre usually expected to be around 0.2-3s quicker than Perez, so a revised calculation puts Ferrari second on one lap pace, with Mercedes and Aston Martin a close third.
Further, analysis reveals Red Bull’s day one long runs were unsurpassed by anyone over the entire test. This race pace delivered late in the day when the Grand Prix will run demonstrated the RB19 is conservatively 0.3s a lap quicker than the Ferrari/Aston Martin and around 0.6s a lap ahead of the Mercedes.
RB19 has lowest ride height
Evidence from the thousands of photographs and hours of TV footage over the three days has now revealed the RB19 is running much closer to the ground than the rest of the field.
No longer can the lazy journo’s claim, “testing is just testing.” Far too much information is now available for analysis by third parties. The kind of runs teams perform during the test is now transparent down to the very compound of tyre upon which each outing is made.
Further, teams can no longer make silly mistakes with issues that should have been sorted at the factory but ends up consuming much of their precious hours of testing.
To this end, McLaren messing around with their ‘eyebrow’ tyre deflectors for three days has probably proven from “just testing” that Lando Norris is doomed to another year where a podium is beyond even his massive talent’s reach.
Formula One testing like the rest of the sport has now reached new levels so to claim “testing is just testing” is simply not true.