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Is 2010 the year the F1 testing died? // Teams look to simulation and wind tunnel data more than track time

Published by Christine

I wrote earlier this week about my desire to attend pre-season testing this year, partly as a way of seeing some F1 action, and partly as a way to prove to Mr C that track testing is still relevant and interesting. Four days later and things could be going better.

Adrian Sutil tests the Force India in 2009
Adrian Sutil tests the Force India in 2009Credit: Force India F1

We narrowed the choices down to the sole Valencia test, and the price and the location were pretty appealing. We already knew that Red Bull weren't going to be attending the circuit for the first test of the year, and that was a sticking point. It was almost acceptable to miss out on seeing the new Red Bull, despite it likely setting the 2010 aero standard. US F1 are almost certain to remain in the States for their first test, and new team Virgin Racing have also confirmed they would delay their first taste of track time until a later Jerez test.

This is all understandable, and no one could put money on the new teams being ready in time for the beginning of February, although they are going to have to get a wriggle on because the start of the season is not far behind. Roll on the next news announcements, and cue both Sauber and Force India stating they are not planning on attending the Valencia test either. For what reason?

It's to optimise the time in the wind tunnel as much as possible

It seems as though on track testing is just no longer as valuable to teams as days spent in the factory, hours spent in the wind tunnel, and computing minutes spent on CFD analysis. Christian Horner proves this point for at least one of the absentee teams: "It's to optimise the time in the wind tunnel as much as possible."

From the real life experience of track time, the future now seems to be sitting behind a wall of screens. As big enthusiasts for shunning the real world, I don't suppose I can fault the logic behind these decisions. The real question, though, is what are they doing? The regulation changes for the 2009 season were so massive that I would have forgiven teams for turning round and saying: "Hold up, we need a year out for this." But the majority were raring to go as soon as the track time was presented to them. 12 months later, and you can't coax them out onto the tarmac.

Is it an attempt at keeping secrets? Surely teams are aware by now that it is almost an impossible task. Or perhaps they have learnt from the double diffuser debacle that there is the possibility of springing a surprise.

Perhaps it is simply that the track at Valencia is not particularly useful and they would rather wait until Barcelona - they can certainly reuse data collected at Circuit de Catalunya during the season, whereas maybe the Ricardo Tomo track is less useful to them. What would happen if Bahrain got their way and became one of the pre-season preferred testing tracks instead? Would the teams be more or less keen to head out there and stock up on some numbers?

It's certainly something you'd want to experience

We've seen a distinct lack of interest in testing recently, but does that mean fans are missing out? I know when we attended Silverstone for mid-season testing in 2008 it was full of excited fans, a really good day out, and although different to a GP atmosphere, it's certainly something you'd want to experience. Now it's all pre-season, more clinical, and less teams are bothered. It seems like everyone from fans to drivers to mechanics are missing out.

That being said, it wouldn't surprise me if the trend for testing is over. With cost cutting the first bullet point on everyone's agenda at the moment, extra track time, flights, cargo, fuel and tyres can't be an appealing option. If the fans aren't bothered about going, the teams would prefer to stay in the warmth of the factory, then perhaps testing really is dead. Could we get by without it altogether?

Either way, I'm going to have to admit that Mr C might be right. It looks like we're just going to have to settle for a regular old holiday. Where's the nearest wind tunnel?