Following last weekend's German GP, Formula 1's global circus comes to a temporary halt. This year's race calendar dictates a three-week summer break for the hard-working teams before the action begins again at the Hungarian GP on the 18th August.
Following last weekend's German GP, Formula 1's global circus comes to a temporary halt. This year's race calendar dictates a three-week summer break for the hard-working teams before the action begins again at the Hungarian GP on the 18th August. And needless to say, the downtime will be most welcome.
The enforced lay-off applies not only to all the race team personnel, but also the unheralded test teams who do so much work behind the scenes to ensure that come race day, cars and drivers are as competitive as possible.
BAR's own test team has completed 67 days of testing at 20 different tests so far in 2002. During that time Jacques Villeneuve, Olivier Panis and the test drivers have run the BAR004 and its predecessor for over 25,000kms divided between reliability testing of the car and performance development in many areas such as tyres, brakes, engines, mechanical systems, car set-ups and aerodynamics.
In fact just about every component of the car has come under scrutiny during these tests. And much of it is ongoing development work, aimed at not only the five remaining GPs of the 2002 season, but for the new evolution of the car being prepared in Brackley for next year.
So with such a massive agenda to work through, perhaps the summer break is more of a hindrance for the testing gang. Test Team Manager Andrew Alsworth disagrees:
"Personally I quite welcome the break. We've had 20 separate tests so far this year -- and some of those have been back-to-back. This break gives us a chance to recharge our batteries for the remainder of the season.
"Although everyone on the test team will be taking some time off to get away from it all, it's not as though we'll all go to the Bahamas for three weeks! There is still plenty to be done back at Brackley. We'll be finishing some of the jobs we can't do when we are on the road: servicing equipment and the trucks, stock-checks, etc."
So what elements of an Formula 1 car get tested most throughout the season and just how hard is it to make significant changes to the car once the season is in full swing? Andrew explains:
"The testing schedule very much depends on what time of the year it is. During the winter we work very hard on reliability for the first races. That is our number one priority. Then, as the year develops, we work on the suspension, gearbox and aero package. It's the same for Honda. They try to make their engine lighter and more powerful. Obviously with our close relationship with Honda, our testing is becoming more and more integrated."
"During the season itself there are three main areas we tend to work on, depending on how the car is performing," he continues. "The tyres, engine and aerodynamic package. Bridgestone take care of the tyres, Honda the engine and as you know we introduced a new aero package at last month's Canadian GP. We are always trying different aero set-ups and geometry depending on the demands of the next race and developments for 2003 continue apace. But there isn't much downtime or many quiet periods. Change and evolution are constant things. Otherwise you would fall way behind the competition."
Andrew also reveals that work on the 2003 Lucky Strike B.A.R Honda is well underway and after the summer break approximately 30 to 40% of the tasks he and his team will be undertaking relate directly to next year's challenge. "A lot of our work is now with 2003 in mind," he confirms. "But of course the development programme is seamless. Everything we do has a knock-on effect for the 2003 car, regardless of whether those individual parts actually appear on the BAR005."
But as the cost of F1 grows and some teams are forced near to extinction by a lack of finances needed to survive at this highest echelon of motorsport, there has been a lot of talk about restructuring the rules governing testing, or even more radically, scrapping it completely as a budgetary concession.
"I do sympathise with all the teams who are struggling at the moment, but to stop testing completely is ridiculous," Alsworth says. "This is the pinnacle of motorsport and you have to test these cars. Otherwise you'll have 22 cars turning up in Australia each March and by third distance, they'd have all broken down!
"What a great spectacle that would be for the fans! There is a safety issue too. We test all our car parts to destruction so we know what their life span is. If we stopped doing that, who knows what would break on the car and when it would let go."
I agree that there should be limitations -- like the engine restrictions they've just introduced - but if you stop testing completely we'll just run our wind tunnel and test beds at Brackley 24 hours a day. I'm sure a lot of other teams would do the same."
Regardless of budgets though, save an excellent performance at the British GP at Silverstone, 2002 has been a frustrating season for the team on the track. How does this impact on the test team?
"It has been disappointing on track. No doubt about it. But from the test team's point of view, I think we've had a good year," he observes. "We have our own goals and the team has done really well. Of course what we do directly affects the race car and we want to see it do well, but I can't fault the test team. Their commitment and motivation has been first class and although it's been really hard for the team to get points this season, we'll all keep trying. We never lose our motivation or desire to succeed. After 1999, we are a pretty resilient bunch."
And fundamentally there is a new aura of confidence about the team these days and that is clearly evident as Alsworth looks ahead to next year's challenge:
"I'm really positive about next year," concludes Andrew. "I think we all are. Our relationship with Honda goes from strength to strength. Geoffrey Willis' influence on the make-up of the car will be fully evident, we have a great new driver in Jenson Button and I think we can bounce back from this year's doldrums with a competitive car in 2003."