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.