Testing in F1: Why the Current System is a JOKE!
In modern day Formula One, teams are allowed two separate tests, each consisting of four days. This is just the start of the numerous, and seemingly never ending list of restrictions put in place by the FIA. Currently, the teams are restricted to: how many days that they can test before the season, where they can test, what tracks that they can test at, how much they can test in-season, when they can use their factories, how much they can use the wind tunnel (with restrictions on how fast the air is blowing as well as the size of the models), when and how often they can test their car in wet conditions (at the official tests), what drivers they must use at these tests, when they have to test tires for Pirelli, how much the teams can use CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) and the list goes on. Are you beginning to see my point?
Why was testing restricted in the first place?
Way back in 2003, the FIA reduced the amount of in-season testing that was allowed to take place, and in return gave the teams the Friday practice sessions. Then, in 2007, annual track testing was reduced further to 30,000 kilometres and one year later, heavy restrictions were placed on the amount of CFD and wind tunnel usage.. Then again, a few years later in 2010, there was a complete ban put in place on in-season testing. Two years later in 2012, the ban was lifted, and then in 2013 in is put in place again. However, in 2014, you guessed it, in-season testing returns and has remained ever since (but has been reduced from four to two). The reason behind all of these decisions is that they are designed to lower the cost of participating in the sport.
However, this might lower the cost of the sport, but it could lead to less competitive races, as teams going into the first test don't have much of an idea about how well they are going to perform against other teams. This means that if you have fucked up somehow, for example in 2014, McLaren completely underestimated the importance of rear end downforce, the teams do not have enough time before the first race to fix their mistake. This then leads to a team that has got it right to start with running away with it and creating a boring first few races for the fans.
Wind Tunnels and CFD
Ever since the introduction of more powerful computers in the 80's, CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) has been used in Formula One to predict and analyze the airflow of the car. With a wind tunnel, experiments can be made by blowing wind over an object (in a controlled environment) and then measuring the aerodynamic forces that occur. For the past 20-30 years, teams have been investing in CFD systems and programs.
A Fermi approximation has revealed that the estimated number number of man hours spent on front wing development within the history of F1 is probably of the order 5-10 million man hours. That's just on the front wing, and is the reason why you see designs as complex as they are today. For example:
As we can see, the use of CFD in parallel with the wind tunnel has become a vital part of the development of modern day Formula One cars, and is a must of you want to have a competitive car. As this is the case, then why are there restrictions on how much you can use CFD and the wind tunnel?
Formula One is the pinnacle of motorsport, as we have heard many times before, but it appears that the FIA is on a mission to restrict development of the cars. Currently, the wind speed can only be up to a maximum of 50 metres per second and the model used can be no greater than 60% of the size of the car. These are just the tip of the iceberg:
• Windtunnel time is defined as the amount of hours the fans are turned on above a certain speed, also known as wind-on time. CFD usage is the amount of teraflops used in processing a model.
• The wind-on time used for this formula is the average wind-on hours per week, while CFD processing is the total for the full eight week period.
• Each measure (wind-on time/teraflop) is used as a single unit and the cap sits at 30 units in the testing period.
• So a team could use up to 30 hours per week of wind-on time and no CFD processing, or 30 teraflop of CFD and no windtunnel or a combination of both.
Location of Testing
According to the regulations, testing "may only take place on tracks currently approved for use by Formula 1 cars and located in Europe (unless agreed by the majority of the competitors and the FIA)".
I completely understand why cars can only test on tracks that have been approved by the FIA, but what I don't understand is why the tests can only take place in Europe. For example, up until a few years ago, pre-season testing took place in Bahrain (well, at least one of the tests did) and there were no problems with this. All this means is that it is yet another reason why teams are encouraged not to have their base anywhere outside of Europe (mainly the UK), which could be off-putting to possible new teams. For example, this was one of the reasons Haas couldn't base themselves in the USA, and why there is a current lack of American Formula One drivers. Scott Speed told WIRED that:
"It is financially impossible for almost all kids growing up racing karts to move to Europe,"
"Finding the funding to do it is almost impossible and without doing that, F1 may as well be happening on Mars. It would be like racing stock cars in Europe as a kid and trying to get a ride in the Sprint cup. Not impossible, just extremely difficult."
Another reason that the location of testing is important is due to where teams are based. With the current system, all teams have to test at the same time and in the same place. This means that the location of the test is more convenient for some teams than it is for others. For example, Barcelona is convenient for most (as they have realised a European base is a must), but Honda has it's engine base in Sakura, Japan.
Now, this wouldn't have been a huge issue if the Honda engine had been reliable, but at the tests they went through a total of nine engines: engines which had to be flown out from Sakura overnight so that they could be fitted into the McLaren in the morning. The whole idea of the reduced testing is to save money, but flying a new engine out from Japan every day can't be cheap, can it?
The Summer Break
The summer break has both pros and cons. The benefit of it is clear: for two weeks no work is allowed to take place in the factories which gives the team, and the drivers a break. I'm not arguing that the drivers and engineers shouldn't be allowed to have a break, but the timing of this break is what bothers me. The FIA tells the teams the dates when they can't do any work, and it is at a time where a championship battle could be reaching its peak. This means that the summer break could prevent a certain team from improving their car, meaning that the other team/teams can run away with it after the break.
To counteract this, I think that teams should be allowed to choose when they take that two week break, so that it doesn't hinder the performance and cost them crucial championship points (the break is still compulsory). To me, it sounds like the FIA is the school principal and the teams are the students: the races are in term time and the summer break is the school holiday.
How does this affect drivers?
Just recently, McLaren boss Zak Brown has told Autosport that the lack of testing in Formula One is part of the reason why there are no American drivers in Formula One. He called Josef Newgarden 'outstanding', but then went on to say that there is not enough testing for a driver from another series, such as IndyCar, to get used to Formula One and really show what they can do:
"The biggest challenge you have is the lack of testing." Brown said.
"You only get eight pre-season days of testing and even that is with one car, so you rotate drivers. To take away a day from Fernando's four and Stoffel's four makes no sense."
"So until that rule changes, it will be difficult for a driver outside of the Formula 1 arena, or Formula 2, to break into Formula 1, because they have such a disadvantage."
As you can probably tell by now, I don't like the current way of testing. I don't think it benefits the teams a great deal, and then because of this can lead to a worse season for the fans. This is because the lack of days testing means that the teams never really get a chance to solve many problems or actually learn enough about their car (unless you're Mercedes, who have zero issues every year).
The best example in recent memory is the McLaren-Honda disaster, especially last year. This is because, as it has been shown in the Amazon Original Series, 'Grand Prix Driver', the team don't really know much about how the car and the engine are going to work together when they are being designed, which means there can be problems at the first test. In Honda's case, there was an issue with the design of the oil tank, and this was causing massive vibrations throughout the car.
Yusuke Hasegawa said that "Many items we could not test on the dyno, so it is normal that we need to check some functions in the car."
"The oil tank is one of the biggest items, so we have a rig for the oil tank but we cannot recreate the same types of G forces and conditions as in the car."
If I was Liberty Media, I would change things a bit. I would firstly scrap the eight days only bollocks that we've got at the moment, in favour of a new system. I would say that the teams could test for a period of time, let's say February, as much as their heart desired, as long as there was an official from the FIA monitoring what they were doing, and making sure that they were at a suitable track. However, if for whatever reason they needed more time, the teams could apply to the FIA for permission, as long as they had a justified reason. This would mean that major design flaws that will hinder the competitiveness of a team (making worse races for fans), will more than likely be fixed in time for the first race in Melbourne.
However, I would restrict what equipment the teams can use in the factory, so that there isn't any overpriced equipment being used that smaller teams couldn't afford. For example, the CFD and windtunnel would be 'standard', meaning that all teams had the same level of equipment to lower costs and level the playing field.
In conclusion, I'm no team boss, I just know that regardless of what changes should be made, changes have to be made in order to provide a more competitive sport for the fans.
What do you think?
They're just a few ideas that I had which I think would improve the sport for the fans. I would love to hear your opinion, so make sure to vote in the poll and leave a comment!