Formula 1 Testing - Behind the scenes

In this second inside track article on Formula 1 testing, visited the major 3-day F1 test for the 2007 Santander British Grand Prix at Silverstone Circuit on 19-21 June. Important changes had been imposed by the FIA for the 2007 Formula One season and one of the changes applied to testing. In an attempt to limit spiraling costs the FIA ruled that each team could only run a single car during F1 test sessions. This ruling has had a significant impact on the major tests, which in previous years had seen very busy track action, as the vast majority of teams fielded at least two cars in a battle against time to arrive at the optimum chassis, braking, tyre, and aerodynamic settings for the upcoming Grand Prix.  In mid season the top F1 teams are very sensitive about new developments to their cars and will go to great lengths to conceal new parts from rivals and the media. Formula 1 is a tremendously expensive business, with a huge amount of money being spent in trying to gain a competitive advantage, and the last thing the teams want is to see that hard earned advantage adopted by their competitors before they have had a chance to use it to good effect themselves. During this test all of the leading teams could be seen working hard to keep prying eyes from their cars. Formula 1 is a precise and very professional business and even on test days the teams work together to tight schedules in a highly coordinated manner. Most teams have moveable sliding barriers that they pull across the pit garage openings to prevent competitors 'team spies' and the media from observing the cars at close quarters. The barriers are almost 2m high so getting a glimpse of the action in the garage can be difficult. A typical sequence of activity might be that the driver appears from the screened off area at the back of the pit garage, dons his crash helmet and HANS (Head And Neck Support) device then climbs into the car. The mechanics and engineers will then strap the driver in, start the engine and remove the tyre warmers. When the signal comes to release the car out onto the circuit, the barrier is quickly wheeled to one side, a mechanic checks that the pit lane is clear and waves the driver out. Literally within a few seconds the car is out into the open and gone. A well orchestrated team like Ferrari or McLaren will take at most around ten seconds for this whole activity. The moment the barriers are moved to one side the waiting media photographers will move in to grab those elusive shots of the car in the open and moving at relatively slow speed. All of the team members have their headsets on and this helps to ensure that when the signal comes to release the car, the procedure is executed with extreme precision. Once out on track the driver will be asked to complete a designated number of laps to allow the team to measure the effect on performance of whatever aspect of the package is being tested at the time. The pit signaller will signal the driver on each lap telling him how many laps are left before he should return to the garage, what his lap time is and any other pertinent information. Once the signal to come in is given, the mechanics move out into the pit lane ready to receive the car. One of the main concerns on the return of the car is management of the brake temperatures as they run very hot out on track with the carbon fibre discs glowing red hot under very heavy braking. To help to control the heat a mechanic is allocated to each of the four wheels and is equipped with a cold air blower. Again the whole procedure is timed to the split second, with the car arriving at the garage travelling at close to the maximum pit lane speed limit until the last moment, whereupon the driver swings the car across the pit lane to a standstill. Within 1-2 seconds the mechanics are on the car, with the cold air blowers applied to the brakes by the 4 mechanics on the corners, another will take the steering wheel and several more will immediately push the car back into the open garage. The moment the car is back inside the moveable barrier will be pushed back across the garage entrance. The whole sequence from the moment the car is stationary until the barrier is pulled across takes a mere 5-10 seconds, which again limits the time the waiting media has to grab their pictures and make their observations. It's incredible to watch, and many other sports could learn from the way the teams are so utterly coordinated in their work. Many of the teams these days have large numbers of corporate guests to entertain, and these lucky individuals may be allowed to watch from the pit lane outside the team's garage, and are often also given limited access to what is happening inside the garage as well. Needless to say with lots of new parts under test, breakdowns out on track are fairly frequent, and can be a real disruption to the on track action as the red light brings the session to a temporary halt whilst the car and driver are recovered. Two safety teams are normally dispatched for a breakdown, one to collect the driver, and the other one calling to pick up two or three team members from the garage to collect the car. Yet again the whole process is well drilled with the team members taking a yoke to enable the car to be safely secured and lifted on to the back of the recovery vehicle. Inevitably the car is carefully covered over with a tailored sheet prior to returning it to the waiting team and watching eyes in the pit lane. The car is carefully lifted from the recovery truck, usually onto small trolleys and is once again whisked away into the garage in a few seconds. Quite often the F1 teams will use test days to practice their pit stop routines and these are always good to see especially if live refuelling is taking place as well. The photo gallery that accompanies this article has many interesting shots from the three days of action and hopefully will provide a good visual insight into the action that took place. The Formula 1 teams were well represented at the session with only the Honda and Super Aguri teams absent. The test commenced on the Tuesday after the United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis, and hence the drivers had little time to get to the circuit and recover from the time difference. The key players were nonetheless present, with front runners Fernando Alonso, Felipe Massa, Kimi Raikkonen and Nick Heidfeld all driving. One notable absentee, much to the disappointment of the large partisan British crowd, was high-flying rookie and championship leader Lewis Hamilton. Over the three days a resurgent Ferrari team headed by Felipe Massa was fastest, with the Williams-Toyota of Nico Rosberg and the McLaren Mercedes of current world champion Fernando Alonso in pursuit. To close off it didn't escape our notice that on day two, Kimi Raikkonen desperate to get a last few laps in before the red light came on signalling the end of the session, left the pit lane at what seemed like well over 100Mph. One startled corporate guest holding up his camera phone to get a photo of Kimi was heard to say, 'where the hell did he go?' Fortunately for Kimi he escaped without punishment, as the pit-lane speed limit does not appear to be as strictly enforced on test days. 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