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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Why can't Ferrari go testing in-season?

I was wondering how much in-season testing costs the teams after Luca de Montezemolo had a go at Formula 1 the other day about the ban on in-season testing.

Luca took the opportunity presented by the Ferrari World Finals in Valencia which ran until Sunday last to make it clear that Ferrari wants its Formula 1 operation to revert to a time when it was relevant to Ferrari’s primary business, the production of road cars.
"There are things that aren’t going well in this sport and the moment has arrived to clarify these once and for all in the appropriate places. We can no longer have a situation in which the transfer of technology from the track to the street is reduced to the bare minimum, engines and gearboxes are always the same and the aerodynamics no longer has anything to do with research for road cars. Moreover, it cannot be that in this sport you can’t test. We’ve been saying this for a while and we will repeat it in the appropriate places so for the moment I don’t want to add anything else. But our patience has run out so someone needs to think about whether they want Formula 1 still to have companies that invest and consider it the most advanced research bench for its own cars – as Ferrari has always done since 1950. We are constructors, not sponsors: I’m no longer happy that we can’t do testing on tarmac and that you can’t give any chance for young drivers to emerge – since some people have used the expression “It’s a joke” in recent days, I would like to say that this is the real joke.
I have to say that, having looked at the running costs of F1 today, I think there is a case to be made for the return of in-season testing.  This is, after all, part of the cost of going racing.

Testing at Mugello this year.  Was it an unacceptable strain on the resources of smaller teams?
Copyright: Andy Hone/LAT Photographic
The question as to its return or otherwise centres around two things; Team Finance Versus Car Development.

The likes of Christian Horner, of Red Bull, and Martin Whitmarsh, of McLaren, oppose its return saying that it will see the bigger teams test more while the smaller teams save their money, thus, they argue, unbalancing the sport by seeing the smaller teams fall backwards throughout the season.

As a compromise Christian Horner considered that longer running and more tyres might be made available for Friday Free Practice on race weekends.

But this position is flawed given that the bigger teams benefit from constant running of two wind tunnels testing new parts for the race cars while the midfield teams seem to run less hours and the smaller teams make do with whatever downtime deals they can do with Mercedes or Williams along with commercial wind tunnel time. 

The ex-Team Principal of Ferrari, now the Head of the FIA, Jean Todt supports the Ferrari position and considers that in-season testing improves the quality of the racing on the track and serves to fine-tune cars for the races.

In the course of looking at this story I came across an article by Mat Coch, F1 Journalist, which criticised Luca for making the call to return to in-season testing, saying he was “slapping dozens of recently unemployed Spaniards in the face” (an obvious reference to HRT).

There is no basis for linking these two stories and certainly no journalist should take up such a critical and unsupported position.  In fact the return of in-season testing would see many of these guys being hired by the remaining teams to run the tests.

When the ban was announced hundreds of F1 personnel were let go across the teams as their jobs were no longer required.  Many of these guys were hired by the three new teams entering the sport now known as Caterham, Marussia and HRT.  It is a nonsense to suggest that a call for in-season testing would be a slap in the face to the HRT personnel when, in fact, it would provide a lifeline to them.  Ridiculous statement unsupported by the facts.

It is no secret that Ferrari have never supported the ban on in-season testing and the fact that it has been imposed as a cost-cutting exercise does not seem to be sustained by the facts.

Having looked at the Annual Reports of one of the F1 teams from 2006 to year ended 2011 it would appear that there has been little change in staff numbers or costs over these 6 years and a relatively similar cost employed under the two headings which might be used to incorporate the testing costs: Distribution costs and Administrative expense.  In fact in the two years 2008/2009 when the ban on in-season testing was flagged and came into force the administration expenses of the team increased dramatically but have now fallen to a couple of million above the 2006 level.

Are the teams saving money from the in-season testing, these accounts seem to say no.

The top teams all appear to make use of two wind tunnels and keep referring to the need to operate tunnels with capacity to test larger models, this is a huge outlay on those teams; an outlay which cannot be mirrored by the smaller teams.

Mercedes have two wind tunnels at Brackley, a full-scale and a 60% tunnel and, when Honda were building  the larger one in 2004, they expected to run both tunnels 24 hours a day.

Red Bull, back when it was Jaguar racing, converted the old Concorde Windtunnel in Bedford for F1 testing and have since added a second tunnel.
McLaren have three wind tunnels; 2 for F1 and one for their Car manufacturing.

MTC: Copyright JK1812
Lotus(formerly Renault) use the Renault F1 Wind Tunnel at Enstone which they upgraded at huge cost from a 50% to a 60% model in 2011.  No doubt they too utilise a second tunnel to correlate results.
This is being replicated by Ferrari, who have been making use of the Toyota facility in Germany which supports 60% modelling as well as their own in-house unit.

Ferrari Wind Tunnel
The costs of building the larger Brackley tunnel in 2004 was calculated at around £30 million and the cost to the bigger teams running these tunnels at all hours of the day and night must be exorbitant.

The Midfield teams like Williams and Sauber have their own wind tunnels but obviously do not use them all of the time.  Williams did a deal with Lotus to allow Lotus/Caterham to use one of their wind tunnels during downtime while Caterham constructed their own facility and they also did a deal with Marussia which allows Marussia to use the tunnel for 40% of the downtime.  That deal is thought to have cost Marussia around £4 million per annum.

Force India were stung for just under £700,000 this year for monies owing to Aerolabs for the use of their facility, we do not know how much the overall cost was but would be likely to have been more than Marussia, given Force India's position on the Grid. 

Then at the back we have Marussia, Caterham and Toro Rosso.

I'm assuming that Caterham, now that they're sponsored by EADS who own Airbus and by extension Aerolabs, will have a deal done to use that tunnel for the coming seasons.

Toro Rosso are apparently building their own unit in Faenza with Red Bull wanting both tunnels on a full time basis.

Marussia are likely to maintain its deal with Williams, the question being whether they have the money to utilise a second facility?

Before HRT's untimely demise they had a deal with Mercedes to use the Brackley facility. 

Given the massive amount of Wind Tunnel time being undertaken by the larger teams in comparison to the midfield and smaller teams it is clear that there is still a hugely disproportionate spend from the front of the grid to the back.

Wind tunnel and on-track testing cost each team about £25 million in 2008 and, with the ban on in-season testing we can be sure that, for the bigger teams, much of the money saved is plowed back into increased wind tunnel time.

Arty shot of the Wind Tunnel at Grove
Courtesy: Williams F1
It was reported back in 2008 that the teams were spending hundreds of hours in the wind tunnel prior to bringing the car parts to track: now, if we take the Brackley wind tunnels operating continuously over 350 days a year as Honda expected, that figure would be over 16,000 hours.

So the big teams still retain the advantage and the increase in Wind Tunnel hours by the big four or five teams makes a mockery of the opposition of Martin Whitmarsh and Christian Horner on the grounds of balance and equality.

Now I don't know the difference in price between operating a wind tunnel continuously over 350 days and six days of in-season testing but I would imagine that limiting wind tunnel usage across the board to a reasonable number of hours which would allow all teams equal time in conjunction with two 3 day in-season tests might well balance out costs across the grid and bring further employment across the grid.

If I could get a cost on this it might make for a clear cut case one way or the other but, like all things F1 I doubt it.