F1 Testing - An Insight into what goes on.
Everyone gets to see most of the action at a Formula 1 Grand Prix weekend, but what about F1 test days. F1 teams test at circuits all over the world throughout the year and cover thousands of miles in the process. Most of the big boys have dedicated test teams and
these are quite independent of the main race team. The test teams play a major part in supporting the race teams and do most of the donkey work in testing new parts aero packages, tyres etc.. For
this Inside Track article we will explore typically what happens, who attends and describe some of the action we saw at the 3 day September test at Silverstone in 2006. One thing that is immediately
noticeable is the more relaxed atmosphere at the circuit, a total contrast to the frenzied activity and huge crowds that typically attend on a Grand Prix weekend. That is not to say that F1 tests are devoid
of spectators, far from it, there is always a good crowd, many of whom are there to take photos of the stars and cars, whatever the weather. The good thing about F1 tests for spectators is that moving around and getting a good view is far easier, albeit you will almost certainly be limited to a selected few enclosures, best of all though is that entry is free.
On the downside you can never be sure which teams will attend and if only a few turn up, at times it can be quite dull. The safest bet is to choose one of the major test sessions, in Britain there are usually two or three of these at Silverstone each year, with the most important one a week or so prior to the British
Grand Prix. You can be sure that this test will be well attended, with most if not all teams represented, and consequently plenty of on track action. The 2006 September test at Silverstone Circuit was attended by McLaren Mercedes,
Renault F1, Panasonic Toyota F1, Super Aguri and the newly formed Spyker F1 team. There was a mix of race and test drivers present which is normal for this type of activity. Media interest was high over the 3 days as everyone was eager
to see the long awaited debut of Lewis Hamilton for McLaren Mercedes. Throughout the three days Lewis fresh from securing the 2006 GP2 title at Monza was the centre of attention. Others making their debut were Nelson Piquet Jnr,
son of former triple F1 World Champion Nelson Piquet in the Renault, Franck Montagny out for the first time in a Toyota, Alexandre Premat for Spyker and the debut of a Toyota powered Williams in the hands on Narain Karthikeyan. So
with a reasonable number of teams attending, there is always something of
interest happening and new developments to look out for, in fact you can occasionally spot new innovations before they hit the motorsport media. On the negative side there are the inevitable disruptions to live running with breakages,
breakdowns, cars going off etc., and this can sometimes lead to delays of up to 30 minutes with no on track action at several points during the day. The teams can also be reluctant to test in anger in more severe weather conditions,
understandably so. Early season tests can be very cold and the prospect of heavy rain, high winds and even snow is not uncommon. This is why over the winter many teams test for several weeks in Spain. We were fortunate enough to
be able to spend time in the pit lane at Silverstone and it's a fascinating scene to observe. Formula 1 is a pretty secretive business with all teams trying to keep their hi-tech cars and machinery out of the sight of prying eyes. This is best observed when the cars return to the pit garage after a run, when no sooner has
the car come to a standstill then the mechanics move in within seconds to push the car away and slide 1.5 metre high screens accross the front of the garage opening. You can see above the screens but taking photos is
tricky and frowned upon by some. You also have to be pretty quick to get a good look at the cars as they exit the garages, and the pit lane, as the acceleration of a Formula One car is pretty amazing, and although there is
a pit lane speed limit in place, the cars reach this almost immediately and in an instant they're gone. One of the better opportunities to get a good look at the cars and drivers in the pit-lane, is when the team brings the car
in to do a practice pit-stop, which they often do on test days. It's a rare chance to see the whole team in action, as on race days getting to the pit-lane is nigh on impossible. The question on many lips at this point is, 'great, but how do I get into the paddock on a test day?'. Your best
opportunity is to join an official team supporters club as they often have a few days during the season where fans can visit the teams garages. Other
than that you will need to get invited as a guest of a team sponsor or supplier. The teams invite large numbers of 'guests' to attend test sessions. Of course to do this you need a contact that works for a team supplier or
sponsor, keep your ears and eyes open and you just might get lucky as the majority of F1 teams these days have large numbers of businesses supporting them. The activity at Silverstone for the September test was 'busy'
as the teams evaluated the new drivers and the drivers worked hard to come to terms with the power, braking and handling ability of a Formula 1 car. In particular Nelson Piquet Jnr and Lewis Hamilton shone with Piquet fastest
overall and both Piquet and Hamilton faster than their more established team mates Heikki Kovalainen and Pedro De La Rosa. Testing times are not always indicative of true performance as you never know for sure
what programmes the teams are operating i.e. tyres,aero,mechanical work etc., and outright pace may not be on their agendas. That
said though if a driver new to an F1 car is on the pace, as Lewis Hamilton was it can only bode well. McLaren have been very cagey
about when Lewis will race and Ron Dennis in particular has often said that he doesn't want to push him too hard too soon, but don't be
surprised to see him in the second race seat alongside Fernando Alonso for the 2007 season. One other aspect of a F1 test day is that
you never know who you might bump into. On the Thursday (Final day) of the test in keeping with all the attention Hamilton was getting
ITV-F1 duly arrived on the scene with Louise Goodman interviewing him for the TV show. Well hopefully that has provided a glimpse of
what happens during a typical Formula 1 test and maybe encouraged a few of you to attend in the future. Silverstone Circuit publishes details of upcoming F1 Test dates on their website (See link below) and on their telephone support line.
Silverstone Circuit website link
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