Is the testing ban good for F1?

By on Friday, April 1, 2011

Since the start of the 2009 season, Formula One teams have been banned from testing their cars outside of grand prix weekends. This has been met both favourable and unfavourable, depending on the team and the driver. Michael Schumacher labels it ‘ridiculous’. But is the testing ban good for Formula One, or should it be scrapped. Over 2 years since it was introduced, we take a look at the positives and the negatives.

There are two main issues when it comes to the current lack of in-season testing: the development of a car and simply giving inexperienced drivers track time. The former is less important. The teams do get a fair amount of time to test the cars and not only that, but there are so many alternative methods of testing car parts in this modern era, that a day in some exotic location isn’t necessitated. It has also been suggested by some that test sessions between grand prix were just excuses for a jolly. The fact that McLaren went from being 3 seconds off the pace at Round 1 of the 2009 season to winning the tenth race also disproved the theory that in-season tests for the benefit of teams was necessary.

The more serious implication is the chronic lack of track time for upcoming drivers. It was most prominent in 2009, when both Jaime Alguersuari and Romain Grosjean came into F1 mid-season and both made several mistakes. The former survived, but the latter was out of the sport after just eight races. Hopefully, he will be back next year.

Getting as much track time as possible is beneficial as more experience will make a better driver. Lewis Hamilton completed thousands of testing miles before his first race and during his first season. It made him a more complete driver. Likewise with fellow F1 2007 rookie Heikki Kovalainen, who spent most of 2006 testing the Renault R26. Would they have been so competent had they had just a few days of testing prior to the start of the season? Now, any young driver has to test for his team during FP1 at races. Only STR, Lotus and Force India are using this currently. For any young driver – such as Jules Bianchi or Romain Grosjean – their first opportunity will be at the young driver test after the season has ended. F1 has implemented measures since 2009 – any mid-season replacement is allowed a day of testing – but its little progress. Anthony Hamilton – father of Lewis – has started a GP Prep school using a few of the 2009 cars. Whilst these are F1 cars, they are two years old and a different machine to the current beasts.

On the flip side, it’s obvious that the major reason for the testing ban is the cost cutting drive that has been around in F1 for a few years. It does cost to hire circuits. But equally, it’s not like its money down the drain. For example, 30,000 people went to Barcelona pre-season just to see Alonso. If you’re charging €5 a person, then you have €150,000. For an F1 team that needs tens of millions to operate it may not be much, but it’s some. Not just that, but the logistics are not as expensive as they need to be. Ferrari has a test track adjacent to their factory. To get to Force India’s base, you turn off of the A43, right at the roundabout and then right at the next roundabout. If you turn left at the second roundabout, you’ll end up at the Silverstone Circuit. So it’s hardly going to cost them a lot to get there. Team Lotus, McLaren and Renault are all a few hours away, whilst Williams and Red Bull are even closer. Virgin is up in Sheffield, but even so, 7 of the 12 teams are based in England and within a few hours of Silverstone.

But even these favourable statistics will require cost and effort. “Yeah Sebastian, can you leave those sunny islands in the Pacific and come and test in Silverstone for 4 days? No mate, it’s lovely and warm in England too. The drizzle feels quite mild…” Er…

A far more logical solution, and one that has been suggested frequently, would be for teams to test on the Monday after the race at selected events. The track would be rubbered-in, so more data can be gained. Also, with the test happening after the race, it wouldn’t help one team more than any of the others. Besides, all the teams and drivers are there and not just with one car, but two. It’d also be the perfect chance for young drivers to test as well.  You wouldn’t do it at all the events. Perhaps after Barcelona, Silverstone, Nurburgring, Spa and Monza.

F1 has a ban on testing at the moment. It is silly, as it’s a bit like preventing footballers from training outside of matchdays. Some don’t see it that way though. It’s an odd topic.

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