I am very happy that the New Year is here and the old year has gone into the past. Those of us who have an interest in the United States Grand Prix had a tough few weeks in November and December, as the fate of the Austin event was uncertain. Now that the contracts are in place and the noise has died down, we can shift our focus to the upcoming F1 season.
Yes, it is true that the Circuit of the Americas must be constructed with a very short schedule duration, and the task is daunting, but I am confident that the project can be completed on time. We’ll discuss that subject on another day.
In just a few weeks the F1 teams will begin the first tests of their new 2012 cars at the Circuito Permanante de Jerez near the city of Jerez de la Frontera, Spain. Unlike most of Europe, Jerez has very mild winter weather with average temperatures ranging from lows around 44 degrees F and highs around 64 degrees F. The circuit is approved by the FIA (Federation Internationale d’Automobiles) for F1 competition but last hosted an event in 1997, the European Grand Prix. It is an ideal location for winter testing, and the F1 circus will start the 2012 season in Jerez on Feb. 7.
In the recent past there were no limits to the amount of testing an F1 team could do. The teams with the deepest pockets tested an insane number of kilometers every year before and during the racing season. They employed test teams that were fully manned and replicated their racing teams down to all forms and functions. The expense was enormous and was prohibitive for the less well-financed minnows at the back of the grid.
As the expense of F1 became an issue during the global economic downturn, testing was reduced and limited by agreement between the teams and the sanctioning body. The exact testing allowances were codified into the sporting regulations and essentially were limited to three pre-season testing periods, and each period was limited to only a few days.
Not only was on-track testing limited, so was wind tunnel testing. Many teams utilized full-scale rolling wind tunnels to replicate the conditions of live racing. This was very expensive. Ferrari, McLaren, and other well-funded teams would run their tunnels 24/7 and would have four shifts of technicians working nonstop. Some even employed two tunnels simultaneously, each trying different technologies to find the fastest combination of aerodynamic components. Fascinating, I agree, but terribly expensive for every one hundredth of a second improvement.
Essentially the current testing rules are:
- Each team is limited to 15,000 kilometers (about 9300 miles)
- These tests must be conducted no earlier than January 1st and no later than one week before the first event
- One 3 day test is allowed during the racing season (scheduled for May 2012)
- Four straight line or constant radius test days are allowed for aerodynamic purposes during the season. A team can substitute a wind tunnel test (limited to four hours) for any of the straight line/constant radius tests
- A one week test is allowed during the season for a replacement driver (rookie or one who hasn’t raced in F1 for two years) but must be conducted within a 14 day period following the driver’s appointment
- A young driver’s test is allowed after the end of the season (to test future F1 talent)
As a result of the limits, testing is much more critical now than ever before. The teams must maximize their on-track time due to the limited opportunities. Because the tests are close to the beginning of the first official race, little time is available to re-engineer any components that are problematic. The testing schedule for 2012 is as follows:
Jerez, Spain - February 7, 8, 9, 10
Catalunya, Spain - February 21, 22, 23, 24
Catalunya, Spain - March 1, 2, 3, 4
Mugello, Italy - May 1, 2, 3 (in-season testing)
The 2012 F1 season begins in Australia on the 16th of March. The teams will be very busy preparing and testing their cars right up to the point they load the transport planes to fly off to Australia. They will be away from their home bases in Europe for almost a month with little chance of changing or improving their cars while in the Asia/Pacific region. Successful testing is vitally important with regard to the first four flyaway events. Failure to do so may ruin the entire season.
I’m getting excited!