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Turning Friday practice into testing - Ideas to save money by reducing track time

Published by Christine

This article was originally written for BellaOnline, but is republished here for posterity.

There have been suggestions recently that one way of teams saving money in future seasons is by altering how much in-season testing occurs. At the moment, testing is restricted by mileage, but a lot of testing occurs within the season, usually when there’s a significant gap between races.

One idea put forward was to scrap Friday practice and turn it into a standard test day. That would mean instead of two distinct sessions of an hour and a half, the whole day would be turned into a test session, in which teams could go out when they pleased.

The one problem with this is that test days and Grand Prix weekends are very different. For a start, test days are much more relaxed. Rules exist, obviously, but teams are allowed to be more flexible with the aerodynamic bits and pieces they run, and they really can test something out to see if it’s worth running it at a race weekend. On a Friday, the idea is for drivers to get a feel for the circuit, and for engineers to get some good data back from the laps, so they can work out the best strategy for the weekend. The two different type of sessions have two very different aims.

On the plus side, you are likely to get more action if the teams are allowed to run over a whole day. At the moment, Free Practice falls into an easily recognisable pattern. In the first session, drivers come out for an installation lap, then retire to the pit lane. The track isn’t to anyone’s liking, with no rubber down, so there’s usually a period of inactivity before someone breaks the deadlock. This isn’t usually one of the top runners, and Ferrari in particularly are normally one of the last to actually hit the track. All the action tends to take place in the last few minutes, as drivers try and go fastest to grab the headlines. The second session usually sees more action throughout, but again, things are more hectic in the last few minutes.

On a test day, with much more time available, and less competition going on, the teams come and go dependent on the traffic. They want clear air and the chance to get some reasonable data, rather than a perfectly rubbered in track that will allow them to get the fastest time of the day.

I’m not sure that the two sessions are compatible, or if one could replace the other. It seems that reducing testing would harm anyone who made a mistake at the beginning of the season, as they wouldn’t have the chance to fix the problem.