Back in 2007 when the powers that be decreed that Formula One testing was to be limited to 30,000km, and that a strict curb on in-season testing would be enforced, it seemed like a good idea at the time. Apparently it would address the issue of massive expenditure at the pinnacle of the sport.
In retrospect, it has hardly been a success, in my opinion. Teams are still spending huge money on ‘fake’ testing, in the form of state of the art simulators. These do not come cheap and the technology will only get increasingly expensive as technicians constantly strive to develop the perfect simulator - something they might never achieve. It is open check book science.
Each grand prix weekend teams arrive at a circuit with a crate-full of development parts for their cars. These tweaks and tricks are developed on highly sophisticated and very expensive computers and then produced at great expense. Because of the nature of simulated development a lot of these development parts work, but an awful lot don’t and are simply binned. It’s a hit and miss science
Ask Williams, McLaren and Sauber. All have struggled this year with well below par cars and have thrown a garage full of ‘solutions’ at their problems - without any noticeable success. Their scrap heaps are no doubt high.
The last but by far the most serious failure of testing restrictions is how it has hampered the development of drivers, particularly the GP2 heroes who are the next generation. Plenty of seat time in simulators is no substitute for pounding out laps on the black stuff, in real conditions.
Hence this new generation arrives in the biggest league of all with very little seat time in F1 cars on a real race tracks and invariably they struggle.
Two camps are emerging in the sport. There are the drivers who have had the luxury of testing, particularly the older generation, and can go wheel-to-wheel in races without incident, despite the closeness of battle.
Then there are the young guns who are constantly in wars and often end up in tears. I am not going to name them, but just go down the entry list and draw your own conclusions about who are the accident prone drivers. I am willing to bet they are drivers with very little F1 seat time to their credit - the simulation generation. Invariably over the course of a grand prix weekend, one or more of this club bend metal and it can be very expensive - ask Lotus. But, a driver like Fernando Alonso has done more mileage in an F1 car than the younger, no testing generation half, put together.
So let’s do the maths: the cost of the on-going development of simulators, plus trashed development parts that don’t work, plus bent metal because drivers have little real F1 seat time, equals more money than real testing would ever cost.
Thus the teams have argued the case and agreed to a proposal that will extend in-season testing. Wisely, this will be done on a Tuesday and Wednesday, after a race. Venues suggested for this are: Silverstone, Barcelona, Spa and Hockenheim. The agreement is expected to be ratified by the FIA’s world motor sport council at Goodwood on June 28.
Meanwhile it has emerged that the 2014 season of winter testing will kick off earlier than usual, in mid-January probably in Spain, followed by a warm-weather test at a yet to be decided venue in the Middle East.
However, there is a lobby among the teams to shift the entire preseason testing to warmer climes, where weather does not play havoc with well laid testing plans. Rain invariably counts for a couple of days of testing in southern Spain and temperatures often are far lower than they will ever be in grand prix conditions, often making data collected at great expense useless.
There is an abundance of venues capable of hosting F1 testing in the Middle East and in January and February the weather conditions are ideal. They could be a far more useful ‘test laboratory’ for teams and the sport’s suppliers.
Paddock talk is that Bahrain will most likely host the final pre-2014 season test. Abu Dhabi’s seven star Yas Marina is a likely destination should the decision be made to shift the winter test action to this region. Also in the running are Qatar’s Losail Circuit and Dubai Autodrome.
We have yet to see how all this pans out. Whatever the case, I for one am very pleased that testing has been extended. It is the first step in the right direction.
Ultimately, testing restrictions are against the spirit of the sport. You can’t tell Manchester City when and how often they can train their squad at Carrington. So how can it be that Ferrari are told they cannot train (or test) at their very own Fiorano track. It doesn’t make sense to me.
The writer is communciations manager at Dubai Autodrome