CONSTANT TESTING HELPS TEAMS MOVE TO HEAD OF F1 CLASS INDIANAPOLIS, Oct. 6, 1999 -- The length of next year's United States Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sept. 24 will be approximately 190 miles (300 km), but by the time the...
CONSTANT TESTING HELPS TEAMS MOVE TO HEAD OF F1 CLASS
INDIANAPOLIS, Oct. 6, 1999 -- The length of next year's United States Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sept. 24 will be approximately 190 miles (300 km), but by the time the Formula One teams arrive at the Brickyard they will have tested thousands of miles in their never-ending quest to find more speed, increase reliability, try new concepts and parts ... and to win.
With the exception of an enforced 30-day testing ban after the final race of the season, F1 teams test constantly. One major F1 team recently spent 100 days of testing in a 12-month period. But now F1's ruling body, the FIA, and F1's tire supplier, Bridgestone, are trying to reduce the amount of testing. All the top F1 teams have a test team that runs independently of the race team, and most consist of two trucks, two cars, a motor home and a staff of up to 40 people. The only link between the test and race teams is the drivers and engineers. While most teams employ a test driver, their regular drivers do the bulk of the testing.
Even before their new cars for the 2000 season are ready, the teams will test using their 1999 cars, which will carry some of components to be used on the new car. Once the new car has been built, the teams do some shakedown testing at a track near their base, and for the British-based teams this means the Silverstone circuit.
"In preseason testing," said Mark Owen, who spent four years as the test team manager on the Mild Seven Benetton team before assuming the role as assistant team manager on the race team, "we will always do something close to home to start with just to get the car running for a couple of days so we can sort out any problems before we go away. There is not much point of going miles away to find out we have some sort of major gearbox problem or something.
"We do a few days at Silverstone, and then we go someplace warm where we can get some consistent running done because what we want to do is get miles on everything to find out the weak points. We normally go to Barcelona or Jerez, which is also in Spain. Once the car is running reasonably reliably, then you can start to work on performance."
Once the bulk of the F1 season is underway and a Grand Prix is being staged every other weekend, the teams will generally test for three days between races. Venues vary, but Silverstone and Barcelona are favorites and, when possible, the teams will test at the track they are due to race on next. "Most tests last about three days," Owen said. "In the past, we have tested four or five days, and it's actually better for the teams to test for a longer period although it's very hard physically.
"You take a day to 'clean' the track and get the car sorted, so your first day is gone. If you have rain, then you get into problems, and in Europe there are frequent changes of weather, which can ruin your day's testing. So ideally we really need four or five days."
Bridgestone supplies two dry-weather tire compounds at each race, and part of the prerace testing program for the teams is to decide which compound will be best suited for the race.
"On the morning of the first day, you will find a baseline and clear the track up," Owen said. "The engineers will already have a plan of what they want to do to improve the car. We will have some new parts we want to try for the race, and you do a certain amount of set-up work.
"Tires are very important. Sometimes it's close call whether to use the soft or hard compound, so you have to do a lot of testing in qualifying mode and race mode to work out what you race strategy is going to be. Sometimes it's very clear which tire to use, and then we don't spend a lot of time on that aspect."
Testing is hard, grueling work for the drivers and crews, and after spending all day at the track the mechanics then work late into the night to prepare the cars for the next day. It's not uncommon for the crews to work until 2 a.m. or later and then be back at the track early the next morning. It's unlikely that there will be any testing on the new, 2.61-mile road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway before the United States Grand Prix, said Kevin Forbes, IMS director of engineering and construction.
And that should come as little surprise to F1 teams. "Flyaway" tests -- tests the teams fly all their cars and equipment to - are rare. Virtually all tests are held within Europe, where the teams can haul everything to the tracks in their giant transporters.
Should the teams test at some "flyaway" destination, they won't leave anything at home.
"We would not cut short on anything," Owen said. "Whatever you decide not to take is going to be the thing you need. We take everything off the trucks and pack them into the custom-made freight boxes. All our equipment is made with flyaways in mind, so everything is light. Even our pit-signaling boards are made of carbon fiber, but that is not to be extravagant -- the reason we do it is the dollars we save on freight costs."
When the F1 cars get to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the first time, you can be sure of one thing -- they will have covered a lot of miles to get there.