A test
of nerve

Testing, testing
Formula 1® testing means many different things to different people – and that is the intriguing beauty of it. For some, it’s the pursuit of pure performance: in other words, finding out just how quickly your car can go over one lap, with no holds barred. For others, it’s about finding out how long the machinery will last or testing new parts. For a few more, such as the young drivers who have the privilege of sitting inside a Formula 1® car on just one or two occasions per year, it’s a massive adventure: the rare chance to experience adrenaline like never before and have a tantalising taste of what they wish to become. 
While for some of the more experienced drivers, especially those who weren’t in Barcelona, testing is instead an unremitting chore with none of the glamour of racing: something left to younger and more eager drivers.
For the teams that are less well funded, testing (especially in the pre-season) even represents a business opportunity. Not only can they ‘sell’ the seat to a driver in return for much-needed sponsorship, but they can also indulge in a tactic that is known in Formula 1® parlance as a ‘glory run’: in other words a lap that is focussed on extreme (but unsustainable) performance, to give potential sponsors the impression that the team will run at the forefront – and therefore become a good prospect for investment. By the time the season is underway, this illusion becomes somewhat harder to maintain…
All these different priorities, motivations and goals in testing add up to a shifting landscape of lap times and run plans, so that one team is in fact never directly competing against another, however it might outwardly seem.
Yet at the end of the day – or rather two days, in the case of the most recent test at Barcelona – there will be a classification. And despite the multiplicity of parameters, that classification often reflects the reality of who is most competitive.

Different points of view
Let’s take the Barcelona test from a variety of different perspectives. Haas was the team that ran the most on the brand new purple ultrasoft tyres, trying to gain a potential advantage for Monaco, where this compound will be used for the first time. As everyone knows, Monaco is a massive leveller: the place where even outsiders can spring a massive surprise. And the Americans want to be in the best position to do that.
Mercedes ran mostly the medium tyres, and made a last-minute switch to swap Esteban Ocon for Pascal Wehrlein on day two. The reason was that the team had some more new things to try out, and they wanted feedback from their most experienced driver available. There were no glory runs or gambles for Mercedes: just some serious work behind the scenes as they aimed to put their disastrous double DNF in Spain behind them and get back to the business of winning.
Williams was perhaps the most eye-catching team, rolling out a double-deck rear wing that had shades of the 1990s. One of the purposes of that was to simulate 2017 levels of downforce, so it’s clear that the team was looking very long-term, rather than targeting short-term gains.

The chance of a lifetime
And of course there were the youngsters: people like Alex Lynn, Antonio Fuoco, Pierre Gasly and Jordan King, enjoying a rare outing in F1® machinery. For them it’s a privilege but also sometimes a nerve-wracking and frustrating experience. Whatever they do, they can’t drop the car. But at the same time, during the one opportunity they have to drive these cars they have always dreamed of, they’re often kept on a very tight leash – with the priority being the mundane business of consistent data collection rather than out-and-out speed. For a young driver, testing can feel a bit like being given a box of chocolates but told that you can only eat one.
Different strategies, sleight of hand, and moving goal posts. Testing is a bit like chess combined with poker. And that’s exactly what makes it so fascinating.

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