INSIGHTS

  • THE POWER OF IN-SEASON TESTING

     

     

Report

28 July 2018

In the past, Formula 1 teams could carry out unlimited testing, restricted only by the budgets available to physically run the car between races. But that all changed in 2008, when teams could carry out no more than 30,000km, and then a year later that mileage was halved and in-season testing banned.

After in-season testing returned in 2014 - at that point with four two-day tests - that number was cut in half again two years ago, leaving teams with just two four-day pre-season tests and a further pair of two-day tests at venues that had just hosted races.

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The two types of testing carry very different roles, as Akinari Miyamoto explains ahead of the final in-season session that takes place after this weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix.

“As usual we develop the future items on the dyno at HRD Sakura in Japan,” the system engineer says. “So we can know the performance and benefits, but we need to check the performance and the reliability is matching what we see on the dyno on track with the driver. So that’s the main point for actual car testing in Hungary.

“In the pre-season tests in Spain, it was the first time on track for Toro Rosso Honda so we tried to get fundamental data and do function checks and initial performance checks. But now we have some experience from the races in the first half of the season, so we can try different points for this test. It means we can try items that are one step ahead.

“As an example of this, regarding the hardware we have some new items for Hungary. Of course for performance, but one item has an impact on energy management and means we should check the energy management strategy with this item. Then for software, from a settings point of view we plan to see how we can gain performance from energy management settings from the past few races. So we can try that.”

While two days of solid running seems like ample opportunity for track running, changes and different test items mean plenty of time is spent in the garage if the test is not planned effectively. And it’s not just our power unit team that have areas to explore, with the chassis side at Toro Rosso also keen to run through a number of items.

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“The original first proposal from our side comes from Sakura, and then normally Tanabe-san and Motohashi-san check if there are any risks or if it can really be done in testing. So they think about feasibility, and then with the PU engineers they make a plan.

“Then they discuss the plan with Toro Rosso members. So we will make a list of priorities for each test item by the impact and benefit. From this priority we can make a test item plan.

“Toro Rosso also has a lot of items. Between Toro Rosso and Honda we have a meeting before the testing session and decide on the priorities by discussing them together with the chassis and PU sides.

“We have meetings about the performance of the energy management at each race with the STR members and Honda members. So Toro Rosso of course knows what benefits we can get from the ICE and energy management settings, so the chassis side knows which items we should do during testing. So it’s not too difficult to decide on a final plan.”

The regulations state race drivers can only do two of the four days of in-season testing, with the other two days having to be carried out by a rookie who has started no more than two F1 races. Far from the lack of grand prix experience hindering matters, Miyamoto-san believes Sean Gelael’s feedback will provide a valuable extra view on progress.

“It’s quite a positive thing to have Gelael testing for us. A fast driver and a good development driver are two different things. We always have the same two drivers throughout a race weekend but this time we’re going to have an opinion from a different point of view. So that’s quite important and sometimes we can find out something new.”

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But it’s not just drivers who can gain early experience during the in-season test, with engineers also being blooded over the two days. Miyamoto-san himself got his first trackside experience with Honda at last year’s Budapest test before taking on a full-time role at races this year, and there will be similar experiences next week.

“Some engineers come from Sakura to Hungary. Not dyno members as they are busy with other work, but we do have some new people who don’t usually come to the track. We use the test as an opportunity for them to gain experience of trackside operations. It’s a good chance for training.”

While there are a number of rules and restrictions regarding the cars at races - monitored by FIA scrutineering - there are no such limitations during testing as teams are not competing with each other. That means we can take more risks in order to try and understand where gains can be found.

“I think engineers should be creative and challenging things,” Miyamoto-san says. “We can try anything during the tests, but of course we don’t forget about reliability and time efficiency!

“There’s no legality about the number of PUs we can use but time is limited and testing efficiency is very important. So we will bring special PUs for secret items and keep a high level of efficiency so that we are more economical with time.

“That’s sometimes why you hide the car during testing behind screens in the garages, it can be more secretive than racing!”

Sometimes, a race can throw up unexpected challenges that need further exploration during testing and can lead to last-minutes changes to the schedule. But with the test-specific power units needing to be prepared in advance, the plan is largely set weeks in advance of the test.

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“It’s different between the Honda side and the chassis side. At least as Honda we’ve got priorities lined up already for the Hungarian test. Then if we have something urgent that comes up from Germany or Hungary then we are going to potentially put it in as a priority, but at this moment we already have decided what to test. Then depending on the situation we might change it a little bit.

“If we talk about the development procedure phase, the items we are testing are in the latter part. So sometimes items have been ready for a couple of months but the in-season test is kind of like the final checks to prove it can go on the car.”

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