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Towards F1 2017: Teams divided over £4m warm weather test in Bahrain. Deadline end of season

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Towards F1 2017: Teams divided over £4m warm weather test in Bahrain. Deadline end of season
Oct 7, 2016, 11:13 AM

Behind the scenes in the Suzuka paddock this weekend, the debate is hotting up over where the crucial winter test sessions should take place, with ...

Behind the scenes in the Suzuka paddock this weekend, the debate is hotting up over where the crucial winter test sessions should take place, with a price tag of US$4m placed on the extra cost of running in Bahrain compared to the traditional Barcelona venue and a row breaking out between teams.

There are some strong opinions on this. Mercedes back Pirelli's assertion that the only way to accurately predict how the new wider F1 tyres will perform in the early races of the season is to test them in the Middle East. However Williams, Force India, Renault and Red Bull, among others, claim that the additional cost of $400,000 per team of travelling out to Bahrain are not justifiable.

Bahrain test F1

"The cost of doing a test outside of Europe is vast," said Williams technical chief Pat Symonds in Suzuka today. "Depending on exactly how you do it and how much you have to ship back to the UK, how much you can ship on to the first race – we’re talking of a minimum of £300,000, probably a maximum of £500,000 so a likely figure sitting in the middle of that.

"Now to a team like Mercedes, I’m sure that they can put contingencies in their budgets to cover things like that. A team like Williams simply can’t, it’s a significant amount of our budget, it is unaccounted for and therefore I think it is the wrong thing to do.

"If we do it, I think we need to consider where we do it because we do act like sheep quite often in Formula One and there’s this thing of ‘oh well, we’ve tested in Bahrain before, let’s go to Bahrain.’ Personally I don’t think Bahrain’s a very good circuit to go testing. We have tested there in the winter, some people remember some years ago that there was a test there which was effectively sand-stormed off rather than rained off."

Force India

The F1 rules say that a majority of teams is required before a test can be run outside Europe. Another rule forbids split tests, where some teams are in one venue and others in another, in the interests of sporting fairness.

Pirelli's Mario Isola, speaking in the Suzuka paddock on Friday evening, said that the deadline for the decision is the end of November, however meetings with teams are taking place this weekend. Red Bull's Christian Horner said last weekend that it would be irresponsible for F1 to impose a Bahrain test, with several teams on the limit financially.

Because the tests start late due to the complexity of the brand new cars and have a bookend with the first race in Melbourne on March 26th, they are only a few days apart. For this reason it is not possible to have the first test in Barcelona and the second in Bahrain.

Then there is the question of the usefulness of the tests; Bahrain allows Pirelli to test the supersoft, soft and medium and to get some useful ideas on the ultrasoft. The hard tyre is too hard for Bahrain.

Abu Dhabi, another alternative venue, allows evaluation only of the softest three tyres in the range. Another thought is for everyone to do both tests in Malaysia, en route to Australia, but the risk of rain is high there. That would allow teams to test the Pirelli wet tyres, but it's not a likely scenario to do that.

Malaysia F1

The test programme with the 'mule' cars of Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari, based on existing cars beefed up to get close to the 2017 downforce levels, are proving only partially useful. The cars are around 15% down on the expected level of load so there is limited data coming from them. Pirelli's fear in not having a hot weather test with the 2017 cars in March is that they encounter high levels of thermal degradation, which Barcelona would not show and this affects the racing in the early Grands Prix of the season with the tyre selections they have to make.

A contingency exists to swap the softest tyre for one step harder should that happen. For example, if Supersoft/Soft and Medium were specified for the Chinese GP in Shanghai and tests showed that this would lead to too many pit stops, Pirelli can swap out the Supersoft for the Medium tyres.

As has been the way in recent years, there is a degree of scepticism about Pirelli's ability to build tyres the drivers can push on, which was the brief with the 2017 wider tyres. However senior engineers in teams that have operated a mule car so far say it is too early in the development process to be negative and that Pirelli should be given time to come with new compounds and constructions before any judgements can be made.

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