A day in the life…
As the testing begins in Jerez i thought it would be a relevant topic for this edition of the blog. Testing has changed a lot over the last decade and has gone from a permanent fixture through the year to a few weeks in February.
In days gone the testing programme would begin in late january and end in march. In those days there would be a test chassis built, maybe even two and these cars would never go racing but pound around circuits all over Europe for the rest of the year trying to find that extra bit of speed.
Teams had a test team and a race team. The set up and equipment being almost identical it was effectively two race teams.
In the new era of budget capping and cost saving this had to go but for the 3 tests in February it is a blast from the past and the way things are done hasn’t really changed although the limited time means that everything is speed up a notch.
In the old days the car would be gently eased into a testing programme. Maybe an aero day would act as a shakedown as well as a opportunity to get an understanding of the aero package in real world terms. Laps would be done to find a good balance and set up before the reliability and race pace tests were carried out. The test driver or drivers would do most of this work and the race drivers would only come in towards the end of the testing season to fine tune things to there liking. The race team would have this time to get everything sorted at the factory and come to one or two tests to get back into the groove before the first race.
Things are very different now. Now the teams only have three tests or 12 days to take a new car from the factory floor to the first race. To go from a blank sheet of paper or empty hard drive to one thats full of useful data that can be used to understand the car and what it can and cannot do. This means that the car and the team have to hit the ground running as it were.
A four day test is for the team members a very intense and tiring experience. The day is spent running the car and the evening is spent setting it up for the next day. Sleep is often at a premium.
The moment the team is set up and the garage built the action begins. Often the car that is shown in a launch is not the same car that will run on the track. In the time it has taken for the photos to be taken and the press to do their write ups and the car to arrive in Spain it is not unusual that new parts are ready and on their way to the circuit. Everything has to be unpacked and laid out or stored so it can be grabbed at a moments notice. This happens every day the team are at the circuit.
The car build and set up can sometimes be a slow process as not everything fits quite as it should and the mechanics are not up to speed with new parts and how they are to be fitted. Engineers and design team members are at hand to offer advice and guidance and at the same time learning about the cars technical characteristics. Parts are trimmed, adjusted or in extreme cases sent back for re-design. As a lot of parts are made from carbon fibre the fabricator has a busy time and has a pencil grinder permanently attached to his hand.
The test car has a lot of ‘extras’ fitted to it. These are all manor of sensors and cameras that are used to gain knowledge of the car. You may have seen the aero rakes that are fitted to the outside of the cars. Fitting these elements onto the car also takes time. There are many elements to creating a competitive race car and all the different departments need to gain the important data they need to go forward. Each one has a programme they need to complete so making sure all areas of the design and engineering team are happy takes a fine balancing act. Depending on what happens to the car during testing often dictates how the balance is tipped from one to the other.
On the morning of a test day the teams will leave the hotel at least 2 to 3 hours before the start of running. There may have been a night shift working who are relieved of service until the next night. Breakfast may be cooked at the circuit and within the morning routine team members must find 10-15 mins to get something to eat. Sometimes they might not find the time. The car is warmed up and everything made ready for the moment the lights in the pit lane turn green.
There will be a plan for the day but this is always flexible in case things don’t go to plan.
Between runs all manor of changes can be made to the car. Brakes, suspension, dampers, bodywork, wings and everything else in between will be removed, swapped or adjusted meaning everybody is flat out. Time in the garage is time wasted.
When the day of running is over and the pit lane closes the intensity level in the garage does not go down. Now the car must be stripped down, parts checked over and sometimes tested for wear and any signs of failure. Reliability is important in modern F1 and good reliability is achieved with scrupulous interrogation of every component of the car.
Data collected for the day is analysed and interpreted so as to make decisions as to what will be fitted to the car and when that will happen within the test programme.
The car is built up again to the specification required to start the next days testing programme. This process does not happen in a few hours and it is not unusual for the guys to be leaving the garage after midnight. Sometimes the aforementioned night shift will take over and finish the job but this does not mean anybody gets a early finish. Some support crew members may get away at 9 or 10pm if they are lucky. This happens everyday, even on the last day. The only difference being the car is not built up again but instead packed away to go back to the factory or onto the next test.
This is how testing has always been, there is just less time and people to do it. This means that the race team guys are the only guys to do the work. When you watch the first race this season spare a thought for the hard work those guys have put in already and its only just begun for them.