Every year when Formula 1 cars are launched there is a collective outcry of how ugly the beasts are, but as the eyes adjust to the new shapes the anger dissipates and acceptance descends on the eager masses.
The cool thing about the new cars breaking cover is that it means the Formula 1 season is on the verge of happening. Yes, testing for me is the start of the season, not the first grand prix. Although not a technical bloke, it is always good to see the new cars strut their stuff, listen to the feedback and later on compare notes…and invariably have a laugh.
Remember last year Jenson gushing to media about the best car “McLaren have ever made” and they were “definitely going to be contenders” and he was talking about the MP4-28. Now that was a very funny read.
In a way testing is also something of a spoiler because early on we all get to know who has what in their arsenal. For the past four years we always knew that Red Bull had a potent weapon and if they started relatively strong they would be mega, come the middle of the season and beyond. It happened – four times in a row, and who will bet against a quintet.
On the actual days of testing it is always an unexpected surprise to bump into a driver (not on duty that day) watching the action from the sidelines. Normally alone or with a team colleague you see them at strategic points on track watching the action, enjoying motor racing like any one of us.
The ‘body language’ in testing is the big give away. Look for the clean shaven drivers with big smiles who go around cockily nicknaming their cars. Then look out for drivers with stubbles and creased brows, spending inordinate amount of time in serious huddles with tech looking dudes. It’s always a dead giveaway, you know immediately whats going on…
It’s a common philosophy among Formula 1 ‘experts’ to spew out that testing means very little in terms of determining pecking order and who has what at their disposal. Well that theory is not quite true in this era when testing is so limited. Yes, a decade ago when testing was unlimited teams could afford to pound around tracks sand-bagging and trying to fool their rivals.
But times have moved on and these days every second on track is precious for teams, every bit of data transmitted to banks of computers is vital. Teams are constantly exploring the limits of their new cars during any opportunity there is to test.
And this carries on throughout the year, during Friday practice, in the relentless race to develop parts in this ridiculous era of no testing.
But the reason I most like preseason testing after a long lay-off, is to arrive at the circuit early in the morning, inhale the crisp winter air infused with the aroma of Formula 1 fuel and racing rubber, listen to that beautiful whir of power tools and gentle tinkle of invisible artisans at work – the quiet before the storm – absolutely beautiful. (Inside Line by Paul Velasco)