Since 2009 Formula One has had a serious lock down on testing. Gone are the lavish year-round testing with bespoke testing teams, drivers, equipment and resources in favor of austerity such as… multi-million dollar simulators. The idea of testing had become, like most things in F1, extreme and I’m not talking about Gary Cherone or Nuno Bettencourt.

The excess amount of testing was outright scary but all that changed in 2009. Then FIA president Max Mosley put the brakes on testing by banning in-season testing and limiting pre-season testing to only a few sessions. Now it seems teams are set to vote on a more robust testing schedule and with the massive regulation changes in 2014, it’s not difficult to imagine why.

Jonathan Neale at McLaren told reporters:

“Formula One appears to be about to test itself again on its commitment to different types of testing,” he said.

“We’ll see tomorrow when there is a vote on the subject, but I think right now there are four teams who are in favour of going track testing. Clearly if you’ve got a circuit in your backyard already funded and have the IT equipment [in place] you want to roll up the shutters and push the driver out.”

Can you imagine who he may be referring to when he says a team with a track outside their back door? If you had to guess at which four teams were keen to start testing again, which teams would you finger as the culprits?

The obvious question may be regarding the serious money spent on serious driving simulators. Most of the teams have spent a fortune on these sophisticated simulators in lieu of on-track testing so isn’t that good enough?

“Over the years teams have rightly developed the technology and the cost saving methods that go with moving away from dependence on track testing and a reliance more on desktop simulation and sometimes [driver-in-the-loop] simulators,” Neale added. “By all means a simulator is a very valuable tool but there is a whole bevy of other simulations that go with it that help you work out what is happening on the circuit.

The reasons for the ban on testing haven’t changed and Neale says that the economics haven’t changed much since 2009:

“Formula One is at the moment just asking itself again [if it wants to return to track testing] and there are some quarters pushing very hard for the reintroduction of track testing. I find that slightly curious because there were very good reasons for us, pre-the financial crisis and Lehmann Brothers, to impose some cost constraints to stabilise the sport and make sure it was in good health for new teams coming along.

“There were a variety of more high-profile ways of doing that such as fixed budgets and a number of teams were tempted to come into F1 on the basis that we would work on some kind of sustainable formula. So we’ve had partnerships between big teams and small teams, a reduction in wind tunnel testing, resource restriction agreements and a movement away from track testing.

“Yet in some quarters they are pushing very hard for the re-introduction of track testing and I don’t see anything different in the environment – the economic environment is still precarious – that would take us back to track testing.

“I would be really surprised if a team could do a day’s track testing for much less than between £70,000-£100,000 in Europe. By the time you’ve got the cars, flights and all the people it must be in that order.”

That’s serious cash but if you spent $20m on a simulator, that’s a lot of testing you could have performed since 2009… in fact, that’s a couple hundred days of testing that could have been accomplished but that doesn’t take into account the parts and everything ancillary to the process. Can driver-in-the-loop simulation replace real testing? I quote Williams driver Susie Wolff after she drove the real car in testing:

“Driving the F1 car meant I came back into the sim with a whole new level of understanding. If you are in the sim trying to give feedback on a car you’ve never driven before, it’s not the same level of feedback. It’s not the same as being on the race track – nothing is.”

Judging by McLaren’s current form this year, perhaps their simulator program isn’t working either.

An F1 fan since 1972, NC has spent over 25 years in the technology industry focusing on technology integration, AV systems integration, digital media strategies, technology planning, consulting, speaking, presenting, sales, content strategy, marketing and brand building.
  • Andreas

    This ties into the “rookie” tyre thing – if the Friday practice can be used to let the reserve/development driver pound in a good amount of laps (due to the tyres not counting against the race allotment), that could possibly be some of the cheapest testing the teams would ever get. Everybody’s already there, so…

    • Agreed, We’ve argued that they should adopt the MotoGp model in which the teams stay a day after a Grand Prix and test. they are there, kit is there… just test!

      • MIE

        Unfortunately both engines and gearboxes are limited through the season, so teams would need to bring separate testing engines and gearboxes. Also the regulations limit the number of chassis a team can bring to the race (two race cars and a spare stripped-down tub). So what happens if a driver wrecks one during the race weekend, are they allowed a further spare for the test? If not just think how unfair it would be for Maldonado or Grosjean if they drive like they did in 2012. Teams will have to hire drivers based on talent and not just the money they bring!

  • Rapierman

    I think I can honestly say, after spending some time in a type of simulator in an arcade (and I will admit that I hadn’t felt the angles until my 30s), a simulator is nowhere near the real thing. If I push an accelerator pedal, it goes straight to the floor. No resistance, nothing. I get in my Cobalt today (Cavalier back then), I press the pedal. I can feel the resistance in that pedal. I feel the road in the car. I can feel the resistance in the brake pedal as well. No such resistance in a simulator. Nobody has ever invented a way to simulate the resistance. I can even feel the resistance in a real steering wheel. In a simulator, no resistance. Nothing.

    Simulators are just a poor substitute….only, in the case of Formula 1, it’s a very expensive substitute. I posit that they are just simply not getting their money’s worth. Let’s bring back reality, shall we? There’s just no substitute for the Real Thing (TM).

    • hobo

      You’ve heard of force feedback, right? You can buy setups for home use that provide resistance based on the simulated conditions. Now add $20 million dollars of development. Surely you can imagine that for the price of 800 fully loaded Cobalts they could engineer in some feed back.

      That said, I think some amount of road testing throughout the year is necessary. And testing at the venue on the following Monday, as NC suggests, would seem to do the trick.

  • I feel I need to chime in.

    First of all, I don’t defend and/or proclaim simulators, although this would be overall good for my daily business. I thoroughly understand the need of real road testing – strongly magnified back in the days when I stepped into kart machine – the difference between the screen and the traction of the slick tires was … OK, I got my ribs injured.

    I’ve got two points for the sims: they are needed and they are different.
    – Needed because you learn a particular track, you get used to the steering wheel buttons, you enhance your driving habits having to pull levers, press pedals, etc. Most of all your brain memorize the surrounding environment of this particular track and this is of apparent help when you put your foot on the ground.

    – Different because there’s no profound standard for F1 simulators – they are all custom made.
    For example, Ferrari’s one is built by Moog, while Red Bull’s is in-house made, supplemented to some extent by Siemens, but totally real (as much as this is possible) – here are the fine details:

    I’m for the real testing, however – it is not that difficult, I don’t believe it’s that much expensive, but it’s precious and rookie driver issues are proving the urgent need of tires-road-real car connection.

  • charlie w

    I, for one, was in favor of in-season testing ban and remains so. However, if I could offer an alternative, it would be this-allow 3 in season tests spread throughout the race calender. These tests would be administered by the FIA and take place at tracks in the UK or continental Europe that does not host a F1 race on the present calender.

  • hobo

    Fitting story with an option of how to effectively increase testing time. If you used non-race drivers, two birds with one stone.

    Granted, I doubt all the teams would sign up (if any would) given the risk to the cars and the expense, and Bernie wouldn’t like it unless he could monetize it.

    But here’s an idea. Use these non-championship races to showcase new tracks and bring the F1 spectacle to new areas where you can’t necessarily award an annual race. You could use street circuits, tracks like Paul Ricard, Portugal, Austria, San Marino, Magny-Cours, Donnington, and tons of others. And you could use non-championship races as a way of rotating some of the tracks in and out. Say Nurburgring can only afford to host every 2 or 3 years, same with Hockenheim, then on the third year rotate in a different track. It could really add a lot of opportunities for testing, driver development, spreading the brand.

    It could cause confusing to some fans, and there are risks, but there are a lot of potential perks.

  • hobo