It’s funny how quickly we forget the past. My over-riding feeling today watching the tweets rolling in from Jerez was just this, as the eight teams to hit the track amassed a paltry 93 laps of running.
For the first time in a few years, I opted not to go to the first test of the year. Jerez was always going to be disrupted at best. At NBC, we decided to miss Jerez and attend Bahrain in the hope that by then the cars would have some miles on them and the drivers be able to provide slightly better feedback on their aspirations for 2014 than they would after a couple of outlaps, a blown engine and a rain delay.
It isn’t that the F1 teams and engine manufacturers have forgotten how to do their jobs. It is simply the fact that the technical regulation changes for 2014 represent one of the biggest shifts in the sport’s rules for a generation. Not only do we have a total shift in engine and power philosophy, but we also have badly worded aerodynamic regulations to contend with.
So it wasn’t surprising to see that the day was filled with negativity towards ugly noses, and bewilderment at the low level of completed laps. Indeed, last minute hitches meant that Marussia only sent their car to Spain today and Red Bull got just 3 laps completed on Day 1.
But should we be surprised by this?
It wasn’t so long ago that testing was conducted pretty much wherever and whenever teams wished. A few of them would gang together and take over a track for a week and pound around with as many drivers as they wanted. The peak probably came in the 2006 pre-season. According to the excellent FORIX website, there were 63 sessions of pre season testing at 21 circuits over 192 days. Sixty-one drivers turned out 91,568 laps and amassed 411,012km in running. That’s an awful lot more than one car per team and 12 days of group testing at the two tracks permitted for 2014.
But if we look back to that very first day of pre-season testing for 2006, on November 28, 2005 at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona, Spain, Nick Heidfeld ran 28 laps for Sauber and Alex Wurz just 11 for McLaren. The other car that day was McLaren tester Gary Paffett who ran 58. But nobody turned their noses up at Wurz’s 11 laps that day. Quite simply, it was testing. And whether you ran 11 laps or 111 laps, testing was testing and you’d have good days and bad days. That’s what testing was for. 97 laps were run on November 28, 2005. Only four more than today.
The problem today is that everything is condensed and put under the microscope. By limiting testing and grouping it together, the world’s media, now emboldened with the ability to report news in real-time via social media and scrolling live updates on their websites, can pounce on everything.
Lewis Hamilton suffered a wing failure. That will be the lead story on Mercedes’ first day of testing. Never mind the fact they were ready to hit the track when the clock hit 09:00 and should quite comfortably have set the most laps of the day without that issue. The failure of the wing is the news. In the past, it would have been shrugged off as just one of those things in testing. Not now. Because now there are only 11 more days for “one of those things” to further knock the team back.
By far the biggest talking point thus far however has been the new generation of F1 noses. Although I am yet to see them in the flesh, I’m already getting used to them. And I must say that I absolutely love the fact that this shift in regulation has given us a field of completely unique cars, each one with their own individual interpretation of the rules. Of course, whichever car ends up being fastest will be the design around which we see the field converge before the regulations are hopefully reworded for next season, but for now at least it is great to see the thought process of each design team in the open.
It doesn’t take away from the fact, however, that the cars look stupid. They are not aspirational creations, and that is something which Formula 1 must address. The technical regulations were made with good intention but they were badly worded. And now we have a situation in which the teams are openly calling their cars ugly, questioning their safety, and decrying the governing body for letting things get this far.
They are right, of course, but the teams are utterly hypocritical in being so upset. The Technical Working Group, now replaced by the controversial Strategy Group, was integral in the formulating of the new rules. At what point in these discussions was the question of safety raised? At what point was the wording raised? At what point did somebody suggest that this was not the route the sport should be going?
I asked Caterham’s Mark Smith recently why, with regulations forcing teams to adopt low noses, we weren’t going to see glorious creations such as the 1980s and early 90s low nosed F1 cars. The answer was simple. We know more about aerodynamics today than we did 30 years ago… so much so that if the 1980s F1 regs were in place today, we probably wouldn’t see such simple and graceful designs as we did back then.
It’s a fair point. But it also reinforces the fact that a bunch of supposed design and technical geniuses got together and bashed out a set of regulations that have resulted in these… things.
And ultimately, this is what has me worried about the future of F1. The teams, by their very nature, are competing entities. They are so focused on maintaining their own competitive advantages that when looking at the manner in which the sport is taken forward they lose sight of the bigger picture. Their focus is on their interests and their interests alone.
Why hasn’t FOTA worked? Because a group of competitors will never agree on everything all the time. There will always be fractures. Sadly, the teams couldn’t keep their focus away from their own interests for long enough to keep their collective will in tact. That is why FOTA splintered. That is where FOTA failed.
Now we have ugly cars, and a stupid double points rule for the final race of the season. Team discussions have recently taken place. The double points rule was not reversed. Despite dissatisfaction from fans, the media, and even the reigning four time world champion…
The teams are as much to blame for the ugly cars as the FIA. The teams are as much to blame for this stupid double points rule as Bernie. And the teams, by not pulling together and agreeing on a resource restriction or a cost cap are to blame for such limited testing, because they’ve had to have cost cutting measures thrust upon them.
Frankly I don’t know what the answer is. Bernie has always acted as a benign dictator, and one worries about who will smack the teams’ heads together when he is gone. Somebody has to do it. Either that, or the teams must realise that in the interests of the sport they need to remove themselves from having any say at all in the direction in which Formula 1 is taken.
Because sadly, it seems they’re too busy staring down their now globally mocked noses to see that a bigger picture even exists.