The role of testing in Formula 1 is very important. In the early days of Formula 1, cars were ‘tinkered’ with by mechanics who worked largely on instinct. In today’s Formula 1, every part of the car is tested systematically – both on their own and on the car itself, to ensure maximum performance and efficiency.
At first, parts will be tested within the teams’ factories and wind tunnels. If the parts pass these tests, they will be put onto a race car. This car will then be tested out on real circuits with test drivers at the wheel so that the ability of the car can be tested and assessed. Cars which look great in the design phase may not perform well on track. Track testing is part of the evolution of Formula 1 cars where constant tiny improvements and set-up changes are made.
Most Formula 1 teams will have separate test drivers to the race drivers themselves to take some of the work burden away from the race drivers. For this reason, it is a good way for a young driver to enter the World of Formula 1 and many test drivers have become successful full Formula 1 racing drivers. Test drivers for the major teams will drive several thousand kilometers over the course of a season – in fact, the will often drive more than the actual race drivers themselves.
Open test sessions are held on a regular basis at FIA-approved circuits in various European countries. The teams can pay a portion of the costs and are then welcome to turn up with their cars and test. Some teams will also be able to hire circuits solely for themselves where they can test top-secret innovations and new race cars. The FIA are now trying to reduce the costs in Formula 1 to encourage more teams to try and sign up. Because of this, there is now a coluntary six week ban on testing during the late summer where no teams can test their cars at any race track. There is also a voluntary six week testing ban immediately following the end of each season.
Any team that has finished fifth or lower in the previous year’s constructors championship is permitted to run a test car in the two Friday test sessions at each Grand Prix meeting. This rule was made to allow smaller teams with smaller budgets an opportunity to put in some more development mileage and testing on their cars.
In 2005, all teams (with the exception of Ferrari) agreed to limit their testing within the season to 30 days. They also agreed that they would not test concurrently at more than one circuit. This was in a bid to further reduce costs. Ferrari opted out of this agreement because they claim they already had their own special testing restrictions in place anyway.