TESTING

As the sport of Formula One racing grows ever more technically demanding, so the practice of testing has grown in importance. The old principle of tinkering with an instinctively designed car has long since been superseded by systematic testing of every major component and structure - both before and after the car is fully built and ready to race.

Much of this testing work happens unseen, deep within the constructors' factories and wind tunnel facilities. Once cars are assembled the more conspicuous type of testing begins, out on race tracks with real drivers at the wheel. This is where a car's fundamental abilities can be properly assessed for the first time - many cars that look great 'on paper' have turned out to perform poorly on the track. But track testing is also where the steady evolution that happens to all Formula One cars during the course of their life begins, a constant improvement of tiny details and set-up.

A modern Formula One team's testing programme is a major exercise in both manpower and logistics and many teams use test drivers to take a share of the testing burden from the race drivers themselves, though their role has been somewhat reduced in recent seasons by increasingly stringent testing restrictions.

In 2008, regulations limited each constructor to 30,000km of testing per season, the majority done during multi-team tests (normally three days in duration) at FIA-approved racetracks around Europe, where any team could elect to pay a portion of the costs and to bring its cars. In addition, teams also operated closed sessions where they could trial top-secret future machinery or innovations.

As part of moves to further reduce the costs of competing in Formula One racing, the testing allowance was slashed to 15,000km from 2009, with in-season testing banned. However, Grand Prix Fridays serve as test days of sorts, with two 90-minute practice sessions in which drivers may try out new developments as well as working on their race set-up.