Traditionally Formula 1 has tested at Barcelona, with either two or three tests lasting three or four days each, however in 2021 due to Coronavirus it was cut to only one three-day event in Bahrain.
The Bahrain International Circuit is no stranger to hosting pre-season testing. In 2014 the circuit staged two of the three official pre-season tests. The warmer weather in the Middle East provided more representative data than the cooler temperatures often experienced in Barcelona. However, the greater distance from the teams’ factories no doubt presented more logistical challenges.
For 2022 it will be split into two tests between Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya and the Bahrain International Circuit with each venue hosting three-day tests.
Pre-season testing is mainly for teams to be sure of the reliability and make sure all the systems are working correctly. The testing isn’t just trying to set the fastest laps.
The systems need to be checked and new mechanical parts need to be tried out. The teams also try out different strategies like lower fuels, long-run work and qualifying work. During this time the teams will be collecting a whole list of aerodynamic data to analyse and correlate to what they have seen on their simulators.
The data is collected using different types of equipment such as aero rakes and flow-vis paint. An aerodynamic rake is a series of pitot tubes that are sensors designed to measure off-body flow structures. By measuring the dynamic pressure, they can provide data of the flow structures that are coming off parts of the car like the front wing or wheels. There are sometimes more fundamental things that the teams pick up from the aero rakes that cannot be solved at the track, and that then goes back to the aerodynamics team, and they can deliberate on how to solve these fundamental problems and to put these flow structures in a more optimised position.
For the drivers, it’s an exercise in learning their new machine from top to bottom and providing vital feedback to engineers. Sometimes teams allow their test drivers to take part. The drivers benefit as it gives them the chance to get their fitness level to the highest level especially their necks.
For the mechanics, pre-season testing is an opportunity to practise pit stops as well as rehearse working on their new machines outside in pressured environments.
With testing so limited these days, the teams work hard to use every inch in testing. Aside from pre-season testing and in-season tests, teams are allowed to complete two sessions throughout the year with their current cars for promotional purposes where running is limited to a maximum of 100 kilometres on control tyres. The current supplier (Pirelli) is also allowed up to 25 car days of testing each year to improve and develop the design of the current tyres.
There are no penalties for teams missing pre-season testing if they choose to. But with on-track running so limited these days, a team not turning up at testing usually means that something fairly undesirable has gone on behind the scenes. In 2019 Williams missed the first two days of practice due to their FW42 not being ready in time.
There is no prescribed limit of the maximum number of laps. Only red flags, reliability and poor weather can stop play-otherwise the drivers can go round and round testing the reliability of the vehicles. Issues with the car can cause long delays, and with only one car per team available to test, this can mean long hours for the driver to wait whilst it is being fixed.
Formula 1 is a very competitive sport with teams trying everything to be milliseconds in front. Teams are no longer allowed to keep technical developments a secret using screens or covers from rivals unless either the floor has been taken off or the car is being recovered back to the pits after stopping out on track.
With the Formula 1 calendar confirming Bahrain as the first race of the season the drivers and the teams will hopefully be well prepared after the second pre-season testing starting just one week before.