October 27th, 2012 (F1plus / James Parker).- Testing, it is a word that has gone on to become considered “illegal” in the Formula 1 world, one that if mentioned in the paddock, will hastily get you accompanied to the exit gates and with it your exclusive pass. Joking aside though, testing has gone on to become an evil word in the cost cutting conscious world of Formula 1.
It is this current perception F1 has on solutions to keep the sport sustainable, which has seen in season testing become the first of a few major casualties in allowing Formula 1 to stay relevant to the current economic climate. Now while in the short term this has seen costs reduced dramatically for private teams that have become overly reliant on sponsorship in the current economic meltdown, there is clear evidence that, in the long term, the future does not look so rosy for Formula 1.
Throughout this 2012 season, two relative “rookies” of the sport, Pastor Maldonado and Romain Grosjean, have all but dominated the headlines for all the wrong reasons out on track. They are considered the “bad boys” of Formula 1, creating unnecessary incidents and getting into more trouble between themselves than most of the grid combined. The most prolific of these incidents happening in Valencia, with Maldonado slamming into the side of McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton, whilst Romain Grosjean was handed the first race ban in 18 years for causing that horrifying incident at La Source during the Belgian Grand Prix.
So how can these incidents be connected to a testing ban? I can hear you all asking right now.
Well of course sometimes actions are completely indefensible, both drivers have made errors of judgement that can fall exactly into that category, but this subject stretches far beyond the reaches of this season and both drivers in question, it is a problem that I feel has been brought to our attention through the incidents this season and will only get worse as time passes.
For Formula 1 to constantly evolve into new generations of drivers, there of course will inevitably be rookies of the sport, as with any sport in this world. But in Formula 1 the ladder to the pinnacle of Motorsport has started to get more and more clouded, the perfect route unclear, and the consequences of that is a lack of genuine talent being allowed to showcase their abilities.
Jules Bianchi tested for Ferrari at Magny-Cours.
Now in the past every established driver on the grid was a rookie at somepoint in their career. Michael Schumacher, Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton, Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel all entered the sport amongst established stars themselves, however there is one crucial difference separating them from the current youngsters, that being testing experience.
Some 10 to 15 years ago, testing was considered an essential ingredient for every team on the grid, an opportunity to test new raw talent looking to establish themselves in Formula 1, without this, we might have never been able to see the likes of Fernando Alonso, Mark Webber or Kimi Raikkonen in the sport today.
These private test days allowed young talent that incredibly important fundamental understanding of a Formula 1 car, a long time before a race weekend, honing their race craft, their ability and the relationships between engineers. This experience throughout the year, meant that the rate drivers improved, was dramatically increased, they were essentially better prepared to handle any situation that would present itself during a race weekend.
Of course during the testing crazed era, teams would take advantage of the sessions to test new development parts in order to maximise the gains in performance throughout a season, that creating a headache in itself for the FIA who were looking at reducing the costs for teams in order to make the sport more sustainable. However I do not feel a complete ban is the correct method in ensuring the future of Formula 1 in terms of its most vital ingredient; the drivers.
Formula 1 is an incredibly cutthroat business, it doesn’t look to make friends and the pressure to succeed exceeds all else. Typically there is only one chance as a driver to prove your ability, creating an unrivalled expectation on drivers to perform in their rookie season. Romain Grosjean is a great example of this.
In 2009 he was thrown into the Renault car mid season when in season testing was banned, performances were poor and at the end of the season he was inevitably dropped by the team. He worked super hard in the two seasons after that to become a double GP2 Champion holding both the European and Asia series titles together; proving as a driver he had the talent to succeed in Formula 1.
However in 2012, he has found himself at the centre of controversy, thrown into an incredibly fast car, alongside a veteran teammate and given a second chance – a very rare commodity in Formula 1. The rust around the edges in terms of race craft is all evident to see as the Frenchman has found himself at the centre of 7 first lap incidents so far this season, that is over a quarter of all races on the F1 calendar. So that leaves us with the question, with testing mileage underneath him, would Grosjean have found himself amongst so much controversy?
Preparation for drivers is everything in Formula 1, the more prepared you are for a race weekend the better you will perform, and the only way rookie’s can be provided that is testing mileage. I fear that if Formula 1 continues to run this path, future talent will continue to falter in the sport. That pressure to succeed on every youngster’s shoulders that enters F1 is an incredible burden to carry throughout a rookie season, with no previous mileage to prepare yourself to fight with, what is considered the best set of drivers in the world.
At the present moment in time, the only testing time any future talent is given during the Formula 1 season is the Young Driver’s Test at Abu Dhabi towards the end of the year. This is where teams can nominate drivers to run during 3 days, and test the abilities of one another in a variety of conditions. Formula 1 is the pinnacle of Motorsport, its profits through commercial rights driven by CVC are growing year by year, yet the majority is not injected back into the sport as a whole, to improve aspects that are considered flawed. It leaves you to ask, is that good enough?
I certainly am not so sure, why should future talent suffer, due to cost cutting measures in a sport that is enjoying record profits? In almost every other form of Motorsport however large testing sessions are considered mandatory, MotoGP performing in season testing on Monday’s after specific GP weekends as an example. Testing sessions essentially do not have to become elaborate excuses to spend money, they are key to securing the future of drivers in the sport and should be considered a valuable source of honing a drivers skill.
Grosjean and his infamous crash at Spa.
In my honest opinion, we will continue to see incidents like Grosjeans in Spa in future years, unless something is changed within the sport itself as rookie’s continue to be thrown in the deep end with no meaningful running or experience. Formula 1 has a plethora of young talent that is fighting through the ranks to choose from. Da Costa, Frijns, Bianchi, and Davide Valsecchi are the current hot topics of the Motorsport world, all tipped respectively to join the ranks in the next couple of years. However, how many will truely establish themselves as future Formula 1 stars, when current youngsters such as Jaime Alguersuari and Valtteri Bottas are struggling to claim seats in Formula 1, yet are both respectively multiple champions in the junior ranks of Motorsport.
It is time Formula 1 considered an alternative solution to a problem that will only increase as time passes and the current generation of established drivers start to retire. Drivers are an essential part of sustaining Formula 1 for the future as the pinnacle of Motorsport and ensuring the correct pedigree of drivers find themselves in the correct seats. You need world class talent at the top of the Motorsport ladder, and in my opinion Formula 1 is currently stifling that talent, clouding the waters with no concrete path available, a serious change is needed, and it is now up to Formula 1 as the leader it is, to endorse that.