Earlier in the year it was announced that in-season testing is now prohibited. The call for this measure to be taken was down to Max Mosley wanting to cut costs, and the teams agreed that this would be one way to effectively do that. However, without the possibility of testing new parts during the course of the championship, will we see the same level of performance at the end of the season as we see at the start? Will the testing ban affect the racing?
Last season there were many tests between April and November, the Formula One season. The first group test usually happens after the flyaway races are completed and just prior to the European season commencing at Circuit de Catalunya. The teams had chance to assess their strengths and weaknesses at two or three races, and then make necessary changes. The final test usually happens just before the final flyaway races, considered to be the last big push before it is all over. In between, the teams have a few group tests and some manage to squeeze in some private running.
For 2009 though, it will be racing from start to finish with no testing. Or at least, that is what the teams have agreed to so far. I think we can all agree that this will save money for the squads, but it could also have detrimental affects on the level of racing we see. Let’s look at the Renault R28 as an example of how much a car is developed over the course of a few months…
On February 26th, 2008, Fernando Alonso lapped the Catalan circuit in his Renault R28 in 1m23.112s. Alonso was the fastest of the two Renault’s being driven that afternoon, and finished the day in 13th of the 19 runners.
In April, the first test after the long haul races, Alonso managed a Circuit de Cataunya lap time of 1m20.616s, placing him sixth among the total of 9 drivers that day.
June saw the teams return to Barcelona for another test. This time, Nelson Piquet Jr. managed a fastest lap time of 1m20.076s – it was in fact the fastest of the day. The difference of 3s can be compared to another team who attended each of the tests and fielded cars on the same days.
In February, Lewis Hamilton of McLaren managed 1m21.234s, this improved in April when Hamilton clocked a 1m20.452s and in June Pedro De La Rosa completed a 1m20.402s around Circuit de Catalunya.
Testing times should always be taken with a pinch of salt, but with both teams – Renault and McLaren – their times improved from February to June. McLaren were fast from the offset, but still managed to shave a second from their times. Renault started with a car that wasn’t the best by far, but by the mid-point of the season, the Enstone-based team had significantly improved. On the track, this was converted into a podium for Piquet Jr. in Germany, a flurry of fourth places for Fernando and eventually two wins for the double world champion. Renault ended their season on a strong note, and the car was performing much better than it was in the first half of the year.
So did testing really help Renault? I believe it did. Nelson Piquet Jr. needed to get as many miles in as possible in order to hopefully improve himself. Renault sent the young Brazilian out to drive more than they did Alonso, but the Spaniard was almost always around to give his opinion on the way the car was being developed. The net result was a markedly better Piquet in the latter half of 2008, and car that was capable of winning.
If Renault, or any team for that matter, turn up in Melbourne with a car that is substantially off pace, will they be able to turn it around as the season wears on and finish stronger than when they started? Given the ban on testing, it seems unlikely. And what of KERS, how will this device get developed? The technology is not yet compulsory and the teams do not have to fit the part. However, it could give the drivers with it a significant boost. Especially if that driver is relatively light in the weight department.
KERS is proving difficult to get right though, and since January I think all teams have at least once mentioned that they are behind with KERS. Even BMW have stated they may not run it at the first few races, and they’re meant have the most developed system of the lot.
The end result of this is that the teams are desperate to get in as many miles as they can before Melbourne, but once the cars arrive in Australia, what you have is what you’ve got for the rest of the season. And that affects the racing.