Gray Matter: Is it right to bring back in-season testing?

Will Gray

This week saw the return of proper in-season F1 testing as teams gathered in Italy for three days of running - but given the way the sport has developed should it really be making a comeback?

At its height, F1 testing saw teams complete a combined total of more than a third of a million miles in a season. Ferrari, with their array of private test circuits, could jump on track whenever it suited them, while others clubbed together to test all around Europe, with a heavy pre-season programme and an equally busy in-season schedule.

The test ban introduced in 2009 has cut this drastically but while it has decreased spend in on-track activities, it has increased the investment in off-track testing facilities like seven-poster rigs and technologically advanced simulators.

It remains possible for the haves to spend heavily on development and, some would say, the pace of progress has increased rather than decreased since testing was banned.

Advances in computing technology allow parts to be designed, developed and tested virtually. That means in most cases a new update can be developed with reasonable confidence and requires just a short simple track evaluation to prove the concept is good to go.

So why bring back major in-season testing sessions?

With the record-breaking 20-race season this year, this week's three-day in-season test and the switch of the season-ending young driver test to mid-season at Silverstone will effectively see two more grand prix weekend-length events squeezed into the calendar.

The dedicated test teams are no more, so in terms of time for team personnel, flights, hotels, transport logistics, and so on, these in-season tests put more pressure on costs and manpower, whether it's drivers, mechanics, engineers or marketing and PR.

For HRT, it seems even this week's test proved too much as they chose to miss it entirely — and it would be no surprise to see the smaller teams having to opt out if further testing was introduced in future.

Some will argue that the added days increase competition, giving extra time for those who are playing catch-up to bridge the gap between themselves and the leaders. That said, there is always progress to be made from a test session even if you are way out in front.

There is little case to argue, then, for in-season testing in the way it is running this week. But if teams are intent on having more track time then there may be another way.

On grand prix weekends, the Friday sessions last a total of three hours and while there is some support race running and time is obviously required for debriefs and data analysis, there could still be time to fit in another session of running, giving more development track time without extra logistics and cost.

Better still, with so many back-to-back flyaway races, between which team personnel are left hanging around in far-flung locations costing hotel rooms and expenses, why not have an extra testing session on the Monday after the race?

That way, teams could have the chance to learn immediately from their experiences during the Grand Prix weekend, giving them not only good data for the following year but also extra time to test new parts for the next race of this season.

This week has opened the doors to in-season testing again, but perhaps a slight rethink would ultimately make it more beneficial for all.

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