F1

Why Wednesday’s testing debacle is a slap in the face for Formula 1

Storm Emma brought snow to F1 testing in Barcelona, as we all wonder why the organisers didn’t return to Bahrain.

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(Photo credit: Artes Max)

The morning of testing on day three ended up in a whiteout as a snowy track and dangerous conditions overhead meant that the session was a complete non-starter.

Formula 1 regulations state that no car can be out on track without the provision of emergency medical response; notably the medical helicopter constantly hovering above all sessions. As the wintery conditions made flying dangerous, a grounded chopper meant impounded cars.

With F1 safety delegate Charlie Whiting on track for the first time this year, no doubt the team principals turned their attention to finding a way to maximise running time over the next week and a half. The teams however should be asking questions of themselves as to how they ended up in this predicament as the blame firmly rests at their door.

Barca or Bahrain?

First, the decision to test in Barcelona in the first place came from the teams. The option of testing in Bahrain again was there, but it was considered more economically viable to stay in Europe, nearer the teams’ bases, and thus reducing travel and transportation costs. 

Whilst weather is an unpredictable beast, and certainly this snowy period is uncharacteristic, Bahrain offers a more consistently dry and warm atmosphere at this time of year (something the media guys out in Sakhir have been quick to highlight on Twitter, sending out weather reports of 19 degrees and sunny). In relation to the cost, there are other factors to be taken into consideration too, as outlined by a rather exasperated McLaren racing director Eric Boullier:

For economic reasons it [using Bahrain] has been rejected by some teams but I think we need to seriously consider going back to Bahrain. It is on our way to Australia so logistically there is maybe some clever mechanisms we could use all together to save money to compensate the travel.

There’s an argument that not being able to go back to HQ to work on the car after testing would negate the actual benefits from testing itself, and heading on to Australia would in essence mean a three-week parc ferme period. On the other side, teams have to ask themselves realistically how big are the changes and the effects on a car in this period after months of design and construction.

Choice of days

Another option open to the teams was to look at changing the days testing took place. With eight days scheduled, but the track booked out for the full fortnight, Wednesday didn’t have to be used. Although Williams had booked the track for a promotion day on Friday, the weekend was still a viable option, as was Monday too. However, it was F1’s usual stumbling block, unanimous agreement, which meant Wednesday’s debacle went ahead. 

As Boullier revealed in his interview with Sky Sports, discussions were held about moving the session as late as Tuesday, only for two teams to reject the proposal. Whilst we don’t know who rejected the move or why (though Boullier was happy to throw words such as ‘selfish interests’ around), it’s costing the entire paddock valuable time and resources.

Un-liberating

The only heat on a cold day in Spain is probably coming from the red faces of the Liberty Media execs. They will have wanted to start this season off smoothly, proving that the old days of teams vs organisers infighting was over, and that everyone was singing from the same (very professional) hymn sheet. 

By favouring an old European track over the international Bahrain circuit, testing had already failed to shake the image of the old boys of F1 pulling rank to promote their interests over global growth. The predictable loss of time damages the professionalism Liberty needs to expand the sport into new areas. 

The icing on a rather snowy cake however, was the failure to show strong decision making over the extra day, completely undermining all work Liberty have done to suggest F1 are moving into a new era, and not tripping over its feet as it stumbles on with the same old failings behind the scenes.

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