Rights and wrongs of the testing ban

The testing ban has robbed rookies like Grosjean of precious practice time

The testing ban has robbed rookies like Grosjean of precious practice time

F1 Fanantic guest writer and Vee8 author Duncan Stephen looks at the problems the testing ban has caused this year.

This year has seen several major changes in F1, but among the biggest has been the ban on in-season testing. As is usually the case with sweeping rule changes, it has brought more than its fair share of unintended consequences.

The most obvious problem with the testing ban is the fact that substitute drivers now have little or no way of winding themselves up for a race weekend. This wouldn’t have been much of a problem last year, when all 20 drivers competed in every Grand Prix – an unprecedented situation.

This weekend Kamui Kobayashi will become the fifth rookie to make his F1 debut this year only one of which – Sebastien Buemi – did so in the season-opener at Melbourne.

At the start of this season, the grid looked more or less identical to last season. The only change was Sebastian Vettel moving to Red Bull to replace David Coulthard who had retired, and Buemi taking Vettel’s place at Toro Rosso.

It is reasonable to suggest that a lot of the reason for this stability was due to the uncertainty surrounding the ability of rookies to get up to speed. That may explain why marginal cases, such as Nelson Piquet Jnr or Sebastien Bourdais, were given second chances when perhaps they did not deserve them.

But while the testing ban may have given Piquet and Bourdais a second chance, it also hastened their exit from that second chance. In another era, Piquet or Bourdais may have been allowed to see the season out with a modicum of dignity in tact. But the only way for Renault and Toro Rosso to find out if their replacements were any good was to just throw them straight into the car. In this case, waiting until the start of the 2010 season is no good – they want to know now so that the matter is out of the way by then.

But now we run into another problem. Both Romain Grosjean and Jaime Alguersuari, lacking experience of driving these cars, have noticeably struggled to get to grips. They have been thrown in at the deep end, and you cannot blame them if they have failed to cope with the situation.

You don’t have to be a rookie to be disadvantaged by the lack of testing. Luca Badoer couldn’t get up to speed in his Ferrari, although that may have been expected since he hadn’t raced in F1 for ten years. His replacement at Ferrari, Giancarlo Fisichella, has meandered around in the bottom half of the field. Fisichella is a competent driver who finished second in Belgium with a Force India he was familiar with. But Fisichella has not had the chance to acclimatise to the F60 properly. If he was allowed to test, he might be putting in some decent performances.

Not even a seven times world champion could avoid being adversely affected by the testing ban. Michael Schumacher clearly needed an opportunity to prepare for a potential race drive. This left him scrabbling around trying to test old chassis on GP2 tyres in an attempt to get round the ban while assessing if his neck could stand the stresses of driving an F1 car again. This weekend Kobayashi is the latest driver to be thrown in at the deep end, and it is only sheer fortune that he got two sessions’ running in Suzuka last week (albeit in the wet).

Surely it is not right for inexperienced or out-of-practice drivers to be expected to go into a race completely cold. It is just plain unfair on young drivers, or drivers recovering from injury. But more than that, it has real safety implications on the racetrack. It is no surprise to see rookies make mistakes. But would, for instance, the Toro Rosso drivers have had so many major crashes at Suzuka if they had been given more time to test? Possibly not.

Why the testing ban isn’t all bad

The testing ban is not all bad though. Clearly it exists for a reason, and that major reason is cost. This remains the biggest political issue in F1 today. Placing a ban on testing is a useful way to help reach the goal of making F1 more financially sustainable.

In this respect, the testing ban appears to have been a roaring success. According to James Allen writing in August, the testing ban seems in fact set to become even more severe. Clearly, the clamour to reduce costs outweighs any issues surrounding young drivers who are struggling to get a break now.

Also in favour of the testing ban is the fact that is does not appear to have prevented teams from developing their car. Some feared that there would be little change in cars’ performance throughout the season. Instead, we have had a highly unpredictable picture, with cars varying greatly in performance as the season has progressed.

This is probably most notable in the case of McLaren. Arguably they had the slowest car at the start of the season. But come Hungary it was a proven race winner. For me, this achievement – made with almost nothing in the way of testing – is awe-inspiring. McLaren deserve plaudits for this amazing comeback in an adverse situation.

It could be the case that testing actually proved a distraction to the teams. I remember during one of his commentaries this year, the ever-opinionated Ian Phillips from Force India scoffed at the idea that the testing ban prevented development. It appeared as though he was implying that test teams liked to go testing at circuits in exotic parts of the world at their employers’ expense for a bit of a jolly, not because they wanted to make the car faster.

Despite his team’s demonstration of engineering excellence, McLaren driver Heikki Kovalainen remains a critic of the testing ban. For him, “the season has been a bit silly, up and down.”

Silly or not, the up and down nature of this season has been its saving grace in my view. It is hardly as if the racing has been scintillating this year.

Overall, my feeling is that the testing ban is a good thing. But something needs to be done to allow inexperienced drivers a better chance to build up their skills and familiarity with their car.

The issue of quite how you do this is another that is fraught with difficulty. A nice idea might be for each team to bring a third driver to each race, and they can participate in a sprint race on Friday using spare cars. But this in itself would probably be expensive. The teams may resent the distraction from the more important business of their actual race drivers. And Bernie Ecclestone probably wouldn’t like it because it could detract from GP2 and GP3.

The testing ban is good in principle and may have helped spice up this season. But the problem of how to give young drivers experience in a convenient and low-cost way is a puzzle that is proving difficult to solve.

One idea put forward on this site two months ago was to bring back testing as an event prior to Grands Prix at different (but nearby) venues. Ecclestone has proposed something similar, suggesting teams could stay at Grand Prix venues an extra day and test on Mondays.

Could either of these ideas work? Have your say in the comments.

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44 comments on Rights and wrongs of the testing ban

  1. Ned Flanders said on 12th October 2009, 11:31

    I think testing for yound drivers is OK, but other than that the testing ban is absolutely fine for me.

    Less testing and more racing, I say.

  2. wasiF1 said on 12th October 2009, 11:40

    The team can test on some venues where F1 team don’t visit for championship racing.For example Portugal,Indonesia,Qatar.It must be easy for the team to go there. I think the idea of to bring back testing as an event prior to Grands Prix at different (but nearby) venues will be good.

  3. sato113 said on 12th October 2009, 11:45

    surely Monday testing is the most obvious answer? i see nothing wrong with it at all. do one after the spanish race and two more later in the year.
    http://en.f1-live.com/f1/en/headlines/news/detail/091011141911.shtml

    or say to teams that they are allowed 12 hours or so of testing a year whenever they like. minimum of 4 hours at a time.

  4. vettelfan said on 12th October 2009, 11:59

    I think the testing ban has been good thing, mainly, this season. It means teams bring car developments to races and it adds to the unpredictability of it all – as they never now exactly how it will help the car’s performace. It also gives spectatours (who pay an awful lot to go a GP weekend) a chance to see more practice running, as teams want to test their new developments.

    However, the ban does need to be looked at regarding testing young drivers. The Monday idea is good, and if it was restricted to only new drivers then it would be even better. That way, the teams are still bringing developments to races rather than to test sessions, but the young drivers get a chance to practice without causing any safety issues.

  5. John H said on 12th October 2009, 12:59

    I think the testing ban is a good thing and probably means to some extent we should have a 26 car grid next year. But safety is an issue.

    I say Monday testing for any driver with a super licence, at about half the circuits we go to (Monaco probably not for example!). They’ll still get some spectators to cover running costs (marshalls, medical car, etc).

    Those that don’t want to do it don’t have to. All the stuff is at the circuit already.

  6. I’m thinking Monday testing after races just might do it. Additionally, on those Monday tests I think teams should be running the same setup they had on race weekend, so that the session becomes an opportunity for say a rookie driver to simply get more mileage in the car.

    The problem I see with a Thursday testing is that it simply becomes an extension of practice session, where they’ll all be attempting to get their setups for that circuit (where’s the fun in that?) – unless teams would be limited to testing out parts in FP1-3.

  7. I think the testing ban is here to stay because of costs, but I would like there to be a few changes.

    Make teams nominate a third driver before the start of the season and say the have to complete X number of miles or days of testing during pre season in the current car. There will obviously be plenty of situations where this won’t make much difference to replacement drivers such as if a team changes it’s third driver after the start of the season, and if a driver steps in for the last few races such as Kobayashi then they would have gone for over six months without driving the car and it would have changed a lot in that time, but at least it will be a something.

    Personally I would also like there to be a couple of in season testing days on the Monday after a Grand Prix like they do in MotoGP, and probably make sure that the teams have to use their third drivers then as well.

  8. Omegaz3ro said on 12th October 2009, 18:26

    The testing ban is not all bad though. Clearly it exists for a reason, and that major reason is cost. This remains the biggest political issue in F1 today. Placing a ban on testing is a useful way to help reach the goal of making F1 more financially sustainable.

    I don’t see the point in cutting costs banning testing sessions while teams spend a sh**load of money carrying around refueling rigs and huge marketing-only equipment, not even remotely connected with racing.

    • Well next year they won’t be carrying around refuelling rigs, and as for marketing-only equipment, while you could argue that the teams could manage with the most basic of motor homes, all the Communication Centres and Energy Stations or whatever else the teams like to call them aren’t just there to make life more comfortable during a race weekend, they help to attract sponsors and to keep them happy with corporate hospitality, and remember that the sponsors help pay the bills.

    • and developing kers, which went well.

  9. Brian said on 12th October 2009, 19:04

    F2 is supposed to be a “feeder” series for F1 from what I understand. So I have an idea.
    Make a few changes to F2. F2 would be made up of future F1 drivers that already have a contract with F1 teams as reserve drivers. In the new F2, each team would be made up of only one driver per team, and that driver uses the third car from the F1 team. If they are good enough to be in F2, then they should be good enough to drive an F1 car.
    They could simply do a 20 lap race after saturday practice and before quali.
    The NHL has the AHL for putting players they drafted. Major League Baseball has their own minor league system. So why can’t F1 have a league where they send the drivers they draft?
    Heck introduce a draft to F1. Every year after the season has ended, the teams gather and in order of points, they have a one round draft where they pick future stars, and if they have no room to let the drive, then they let them race in F2.
    This way, the rookies will get to drive an F1 car and be ready if they ever get the call.

  10. JUGNU said on 12th October 2009, 22:24

    Testing on Mondays after race weekend is perfect IMO. All the machinery and People are already there therefore no cost of Transportation at least.
    We have seen what happend to Webber at Japan, later in the race he looked like testing some new parts/setups and doing evaluations. He also set the fastest lap, so the team definitely gained some important data. If they had one more day after the race, there understanding and data would only get better.

  11. Anton85 said on 13th October 2009, 9:45

    The main point here is to keep costs down, Bernie’s idea to test on the Monday keeps all the cars and equipment at the track, no costs involved to get it there.

    BUT

    as said earlier – whats the point AFTER a race? “ No point developing your Monza wings after the race.
    ” Thursday practice for a full day would keep the costs low, the cars are still there, more track data makes the setups better for the race (Suzuka last race would have benefited from this due to the washed out sessions).
    Teams can run whoever they want in the car – it keeps costs low, and the testing is then more relevant to the teams. I think thats more benificial than after the race when the so many setups cant be used again at other tracks

    • If the days testing was on the Thursday before the race the teams would just treat it like an extra free practice session and everything done would be with the race in mind, whereas if it was on the Monday after the race it would be more like a test session as teams would be more likely to use it for general testing work.

      I remember someone saying during the BBC F1 coverage recently that if Fisichella had just one day of testing it would probably help him a lot more in understanding the Ferrari than just the equivalent amount of time in free practice before a race.

      The Monday test would only be held a few times a year so it probably wouldn’t be held at circuits the teams thought wouldn’t be suited to general testing work.

      Also before the testing ban teams usually only tested at a few circuits and some of those aren’t even on the F1 calendar, just because a team may test at Barcelona doesn’t mean the information they gather is only relevant to that circuit.

    • PJA is spot on – they would just use it as an extra practice session.

      As someone said earlier, you have lots of data from the race you have just completed, now you can see how your new parts compare to that data. How much testing did Ferrari do at Fiorano and how many F1 races were held there?

      Obviously street circuits would be out as far as Monday testing is concerned, and circuits when there is a race the next weekend. So using this year’s calendar as a base, possible Monday tests could be at: Sepang, Bahrain, Barcelona, Istanbul, Silverstone, Nurburgring, (no Hungary cause its the start of the summer break), Spa, Monza, Suzuka, Sao Paulo. 10 choices, each team gets to vote for 4 they want to test at, the 4 with the highest votes get a Monday test.

  12. I’m in favor of introducing perhaps two to three official test days per year- the test ban has had more ups than downs so far, but if the identical chassis of Indycar can test occasionally (mostly for practice reasons), why can’t F1?

    Testing also introduces the possibility of showing F1 cars at work in alternate venues that may never have a race (again), such as Pau, Dijon, Estoril, Jerez, or if anyone should dare, Braselton or Laguna Seca.

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