Articles and debate on the world’s most glamorous sport

The Negative Effect the Testing Ban will have on Aspiring F1 drivers

As part of the cost cutting plans for the next season, there is going to be a gigantic limit on the amount of testing that can be done.

In fact, no testing will be allowed during the season whatsoever.

From now on we are only likely to see a bit of testing before Christmas, and then preseason testing in the New Year before a new season starts.

In terms of cost cutting that’s a good idea. It costs a lot of money to transport the cars, equipment and mechanics to the track where the teams plans to test.

Of course running the car itself costs money too along with track hire, etc.


The problem that the limits in testing present to test drivers and young talent

However something which has been overlooked is the negative knock-on effect this new measure, will have on test drivers and young talent. Being a test driver gave drivers the chance to show what they could do. It was often a good shopping window to get a drive in Formula One.

With no in season testing and limited testing between seasons, the existence of the full-time test driver as we know it is going to become practically extinct. There won’t be any point in being a full time test driver as during the season you will have nothing to do.

When it comes to the preseason testing, it becomes more important that the two race drivers get as much time in their new car as possible. From now on the amount of tests days that drivers, other than the race drivers will get are likely to be counted on just one hand, or two if they are lucky.

This lack of time will also limit the opportunities that young drivers get to show off their talents. Teams are however allowed limited time to test young drivers if they have tested a F1 car less than four times.

For some drivers like Lucas Di Grassi, this is no good as he has already exceeded that limit. That has already prompted Renault to give Romain Grosjean testing duties, as he hasn’t yet exceeded this limit. Therefore Lucas Di Grassi’s potential F1 career is currently stalled.

This new rule will make his chances of getting to F1 substantially harder than it was a few years ago.

Back in 2006 testing was far less limited. There was a total of 411,012 kilometres worth of testing completed by all the teams put together.

Here is the list of drivers who took part in the most test days that year.

1.       Pedro De La Rosa             54

2.       Heikki Kovalainen           47

3.       Michael Schumacher      45

4.       Nico Rosberg                     44

5.       Anthony Davidson          43

6.       Felipe Massa                      43

7.       Alexander Wurz               42

8.       Jenson Button                   41

9.       Jarno Trulli                          40

10.   Nick Heidfeld                     40

11.   Robert Kubica                   39

12.   Ricardo Zonta                    38

13.   Gary Paffett                       37

14.   David Coulthard                36

15.   Rubens Barrichello          35

Out of that top 15, seven of those drivers were test/young drivers (all highlighted in bold). The chart shows that those drivers got plenty of opportunities to drive the car. Their roles as test drivers were very busy indeed. Heikki Kovalainen completed 5,141 laps as a test driver in 2006 with De La Rosa just behind him with 4,957 laps.

Four of those drivers then got drives the following season (2007). Kubica in fact did the last six races with BMW Sauber before becoming full time driver in 2007. Frank Williams was so impressed with Wurz’s performances in testing that he got promoted to race driver in 2007. His testing stint with Williams revived his F1 career.

Anthony Davidson then got a drive with Super Aguri. Heikki Kovalainen replaced Fernando Alonso at Renault, again after after a very impressive stint as Renault test driver..

For these drivers being a test driver contributed heavily to giving them a slot on the F1 grid.

Anthony Davidson had this to say: “We used to test for four days with three cars in Barcelona or even in Bahrain, They were fantastic times for test drivers.”

Also in 2006 teams were allowed to use a third car in practice if they finished fifth or below in the world championship the year before. This again was another opportunity for test/young drivers to showcase their talents to the world. Driving alongside the sport’s top driver on these Fridays was also a very valuable experience for them, and got them used to how a F1 race weekend worked.

Crucially, they also got the chance to learn the tracks featured on the F1 calendar. They got accustomed to the process of learning a new F1 car and how to prepare and setup a Formula One car. As well their talents were being displayed in front of the whole of the F1 paddock, and thousands of watching fans.

Robert Kubica and Anthony Davidson both made their names on these Fridays, by regularly topping the timesheets. Sebastien Vettel also made a big impression on a Friday, by topping his first ever practice session.

Robert Kubica and Sebastien Vettel are now two of the most exciting young drivers on the grid, and set to feature in F1 for a long time to come.

It was 2007 when the testing rules started to change to the detriment of aspiring F1 drivers. From this point onwards testing kilometres were limited to just 30,000km per team. Even worse was that the team could only use one car during a test day.

On the negative side even more, the third car for Friday practise was also scrapped. On Fridays teams could use a different driver if they wished to, but this option has hardly ever been used. On Fridays the team’s drivers need to be setting up their cars ready for qualifying and the race.

Therefore, there is little point in having a young gun in one of the two race cars, instead of one of the main drivers.

The top 15 most active drivers in testing during 2008 (in terms of days) demonstrates the lack of opportunities aspiring drivers are now getting.

1.       Nick Heidfeld                     38

2.       Sebastien Vettel              35

3.       Kazuki Nakajima               34

4.       Nico Rosberg                     33

5.       Robert Kubica                    32

6.       Mark Webber                    32

7.       David Coulthard                31

8.       Sebastien Bourdais         31

9.       Timo Glock                          30

10.   Felipe Massa                      30

11.   Nelson Piquet                   29

12.   Jarno Trulli                          28

13.   Heikki Kovalainen            28

14.   Kimi Raikkonen                 28

15.   Lewis Hamilton                 23

As you can see all those drivers are racers. There are no test/young drivers featured in the 2008 top 15 at all. This is unlike the seven drivers that were featured in the 2006 top 15.

With only one car being used at each test in 2007 and 2008, it has become more important that the race driver gets the opportunity to test. Days for other drivers to test became alot fewer in these two seasons.

The highest rank third driver was Pedro De La Rosa down in 19th who completed just 20 days worth of testing. That’s less than the half the days he completed in 2006 when there were less limits.

Next season with no testing during the season, the amount of opportunities are going to get even lower still. Impressing a team by doing thousands of kilometres of testing like Heikki Kovalainen did in 2006 is now going to be no longer possible. Being a full time test driver for a team is no longer going to be a feasible avenue to the F1 grid.

Many great drivers have arrived onto the grid via the third driver route including world champions and potential world champions. Fernando Alonso did 33 days worth of testing in 2002 with Renault, before what would become a highly successful first stint with the team as a driver starting in 2003.

As we saw earlier Robert Kubica got his F1 seat, by showing his huge talent in testing, and the Friday practise sessions.

Heikki Kovalainen, Anthony Davidson, Nelson Piquet Jnr, and Sebastien Vettel are other recent examples of young drivers benefiting from a stint as a test driver.

Stints as a F1 tester have also revived flagging F1 careers. Olivier Panis’s stint at Mclaren is a very good example. At the end of 1999 there were not many options available and it wasn’t looking good. Olivier’s manager (who also managed Mika Hakkinen) decided to place him in the vacant test spot at Mclaren.

Oliver Panis completed over 12,000 kilometres worth of testing that year. He was also regularly close to the pace of Mclaren’s drivers at the time, Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard. His performances impressed the other teams, and he suddenly started getting offers again.

He joined BAR in 2001 before joining Toyota for a two-year stint in 2003 before deciding to retire from F1.

Felipe Massa is another example of a driver whose career was saved by a stint as a test driver. In 2002 Felipe Massa was fast but far too wild and erratic. He left Sauber after his first year and went to join Ferrari as their test driver. He completed over 10,000 kilometres of testing in 2003, and Ferrari helped him to calm down his driving style.

In 2004 he returned to Sauber and had a more successful two-year stint before being given an opportunity by Ferrari in 2005. Come 2008 he was just one point away from being world champion.

Under the new testing rules, where would Felipe Massa have ended up? Chances are he may not have returned to the F1 grid. There wouldn’t have been the opportunity to do those thousands of kilometres of testing, which ended up being so pivotal for him.   


Under these new testing regulations, what is the future for aspiring drivers, and drivers wanting to revive their careers?

The answer is that it’s going to be much more difficult but not impossible. At the same time it’s going to be very difficult for teams to assess who is talented and who isn’t. It could mean that young talented with bag loads of potential could slip through team’s radars. We will see more wasted talent in the future.

It’s going to be much harder for those who are trying to find a way back into Formula One. You could call them F1’s “journeymen” if you like. Current drivers trying to get their careers going again include the likes of Pedro De La Rosa and Anthony Davidson. Getting a sufficient amount of testing to impress teams next season is going be near impossible (that’s if they can get any testing time at all).

Drivers in this situation are going to need an awful amount of luck (or very good sponsorship money) to get back onto the grid. Both Anthony Davidson and Pedro De La Rosa have recently conceded that getting back onto the F1 grid is going to be very unlikely.

Young up-and-coming drivers will still have an opportunity despite the huge testing limits. With a limited allocation of extra testing available for just young drivers there is still a small chance. If they can do extremely well in the GP2 series, then chances are that F1 teams will give them a chance to test in these extra allocated sessions. If they show great potential on those few test days that they get, then they could still earn themselves a seat.

The Formula Twp series is also another option that young drivers can take. It will be a much cheaper series to compete in than GP2, so it could represent a lifeline for some young drivers.

The winners of this new series will get a guaranteed test with the Williams F1 team plus will get their superlicense. For a young driver running out of money the opportunity to win the superlicense, and not have to pay for it could be a huge bonus.

In GP2 you are hoping that a team is going to spot you, and either going to sign you up or at least give you a test. In the new Formula Two, you will definitely get a test. One of the favourites for this year’s GP2 title Andy Soucek, has transferred to the F2 series for this reason. Other current GP2 drivers could well follow in his footsteps.

Other drivers might just simply give up on their F1 dreams and move to another major series. Mike Conway competed in GP2 last season, and has recently decided to accept a drive in the Indy Racing League (IRL) over in America. Anthony Davidson is hoping to compete in the Le Mans 24 hour this year.

If a young driver has big ambitions to drive in F1 then getting onto one of the team’s young driver programmes could become very important. These programmes will help the young drivers get into series like GP2 and F2 where doors could open if big progress is made.

But under the new testing regulations how much are the teams now going to continue to invest in their driver programmes? Especially now the opportunity to have a full time third driver, or to give young guns lots of test days time is going to be consigned to history.


Are there possible solutions to give F1 aspirants opportunities?

In this writer’s opinion, the Friday practise sessions where a third car was allowed were extremely effective. Even in the current climate where cost cuts are the hot topic, running a third car in practise would be possible Taking a third car to a race isn’t going to cost that much more than it does to take two cars.

Instead of using the Friday sessions idea, the day after the race could be used as a test day. This wouldn’t be as expensive as the other test days, as it wouldn’t mean an extra journey to attend the test. Everything would still be there and setup due to the event the day before. Currently in Moto GP there are regularly test days the day after the main race.

Either two solutions would give test drivers and young drivers a chance, and not cost an arm and a leg for the teams.


Final Conclusion

The banning of tests during the season will achieve its aim of lowering costs. However the fact there is so little testing time is going to make life very difficult for young drivers and test drivers. This is definitely something that has been overlooked, and maybe needs some consideration from FOTA (Formula One Teams Association).

Over the last five or six years we have seen some great drivers come into Formula One, and their arrival has made the championship very exciting indeed. In many cases thousands of kilometres of testing between races, or on Fridays has helped to reveal their talents, and put them onto the F1 grid.

Under the new rules for testing are the teams still going to be able to discover the Alonsos, the Kubicas and the Vettels of the future? With the limited time to try these drivers out, will they be able to see a young driver’s potential? And then will they be brave enough to give them a chance in a race seat?

This ban in testing will certainly close down a route to Formula One, which proved fruitful for many drivers. As we have discussed it’s not just the young drivers who have benefited from testing, but older drivers who have been looking to return to the F1 grid have been successful due to being a test driver.

There will still be chances for young drivers but it’s about to become far more limited.

Bringing back the Friday driver would be the best solution as Anthony Davidson explained at Autosport show earlier this month:

“Speaking from experience, it did myself, Robert Kubica and Sebastian Vettel no end of good.

“It put us on the map, it got us into Formula One. Running cars on the Friday, in my mind, was great for the fans that were there anyway, the cars were there anyway, the staff were there to run the cars, and the drivers are there.

“So it made perfect sense, and it still makes perfect sense to run those drivers on the Fridays to give you the experience of learning the circuit. Then you become a more valuable commodity to the teams themselves in that given the chance, you can just then step in on the Saturday and qualify or do the last practice session with the experience of having driven on the Friday.”

He added that he thought reviving the Friday third driver scheme was even more important given the drastic restrictions on testing being introduced this year:

“With them trying to limit testing, which they are going to do this season, I think it makes even more sense to run cars on the Friday for the young drivers and give the teams a chance to see what the young drivers can do,” said Davidson.

“It was one of the best times of my career. Just learning all of those new circuits, like driving around Monaco for the first-ever time in a good car, in a good situation, getting to pound around behind (Michael) Schumacher in a Friday test session… I learned so much more than just pounding around Barcelona all by myself. It was great for the drivers, and great for the sport as well.”


March 9, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , ,

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: