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The last piece of the jigsaw puzzle: F1 pre-season test

Gaurab Sinha
1.79K   //    17 Feb 2015, 16:14 IST
The brand new Sauber C34 testing at Jerez earlier this month

The 2015 Formula 1 season is right around the corner, and this is why all the teams are busy participating in the pre-season test. With the first test already concluded at Jerez, the teams will once again take to the track for the remaining two outings later this month at Barcelona.

But have you ever wondered what exactly the teams and the whole paddock mean when they say they are testing the cars. Of course, we personally always tend to “test” ourselves or any of our ability, understanding or product when we believe it should be ready or tested for a challenge. By this, you can always understand what the F1 teams exactly do during this time.

From the drawing boards to the actual circuit

As you know, making, carving and creating a Formula 1 car involves various elements in the team. The foundation of a new car actually starts well before the vehicle even sets out for its first lap time on the track. This is because; many things and many minds have to come together in order to create a perfectly harmonious machine. This naturally takes time, and hence teams always prepare with a head start. Thus, it is very important for the teams to test their cars before the season in order to check if their new car is running accurately or not. Testing has been in Formula 1 since a long time, and with the sport going more technical day by day, the need of testing days has become even more vital.

There is a limit to testing as well

However this doesn’t mean that teams can test anytime or anywhere they want. This was of course possible in periods before early-mid 2000s, but since then FIA has clamped down on ‘unlimited testing’ and started to regulate testing-sessions stringently. And by 2008, the FIA introduced a restriction of 30,000 kilometers of testing per team per season and also said that teams could only test at their approved circuits collectively. 

And with currently no in-season testing allowed, the pre-season testing events, which always happens in the months of January and February, were the only source to test the cars out. Cost, parity to the smaller teams and also logistics, were said to be the reasons behind this clamp down.

Alternative of testing

Even though you cannot test at tracks all the time, but teams have state of the art machineries back in their factories to virtually test their parts or the whole package. As all parts of the cars are of course made separately, the teams have the liberty to test them individually or few of these parts together, collectively. This is of course done with the help of a wind tunnel or various other testing machines. In fact, teams also create an exact replica of the car (or take the actual car), which is then tested in a wind tunnel to yield information and data. It is very vital to draw data from the wind tunnel, as teams rely on it to extract the performance on the actual car.

Michael Schumacher (left) during his Mercedes days at the team’s wind-tunnel

In fact, the real race drivers can also get the gist of the upcoming car whilst driving the exact specification of it on a “next to real” simulator, which every team has. The simulators are a great way to know how the car is behaving and if at all it has the potential to be a decent car. Besides this, during the season, teams also use up the practice sessions at weekends in order to test or understand a new car part, which is created in order to put up on the existing challenger. Continuous development is the key for every F1 team, and lack of in-season and width of testing hurt the wealthy teams.   

Testing the car on track

Although teams get a feedback of their car parts on the virtual testing methods, the real potential of the whole package is only understood when it goes for a spin. And since pre-season testing is the first time, the teams can run their cars on an actual track, they make the most of it. This is because, however good the car may look on the paper and with the data, it has to perform on the real track .  


The teams can actually understand how their new car is and drivers, for the first time, can in-real get the feeling of what they are about to use during the tests. This will set them for the rest of the season. Pre-season testing gives all the team the opportunity to rectify their cars and also know about shortcomings which might haunt them throughout the season.

For example; this year McLaren are having difficulty with their Honda engines. And since the first race in Australia is just weeks away, testing has given them a heads up to McLaren and Honda, who will hopefully, rectify the problems by then. The use of flow visualization paint and various types of antenna, camera and devices are common during tests by the team to understand the cars better. Unfortunately, if the car has many fundamental flaws, then turning the wrong car into a right one takes time and extensive development, back at the factory, upon which no guarantee of a bounce back is possible.

Besides this, during the tests, teams also work hard to yield information about how their car is using the tyres and about the car’s reliability. Long runs are generally preferred by teams in a hope to catch any issues before the season starts.

It is all about preparing for the new season

You might have noticed during testing that some teams do not prefer to set fast times, they only concentrate about long-runs and longevity of the whole package. As you know, testing is all about setting up the team and the car perfectly for the new season. It gives the drivers, engineers and all other team members a chance to get tuned up again after the winter break.

In fact, without testing, F1 teams will go into the first race weekend absolutely blind, which will make their life very difficult to say the least. You can also say that; testing is the final line in the chapter of making a Formula 1 car. Formula 1 testing has been an integral part of the sport, and will continue to do so in the future.