The FIA has revised the sporting regulations that restrict in-season testing. Effective next season, reserve drivers will be allowed one day of testing prior to making a race debut. This will apply only to drivers who have not actively raced in Formula 1 for the previous two seasons.
This means that F1 rookies would obviously be able to test, as would drivers returning to F1 after an extended hiatus, e.g. Michael Schumacher, who made an aborted return to the grid this year after being absent in 2007 and 2008.
Pursuant to this change, the regulations have also been amended as follows: “Any such day may only be carried out by the new driver and may not take place on a circuit hosting a race in the current championship year. If a team, having declared the driver’s substitution and performed the test, does not then enter an event with the new driver, the team will be penalized by a reduction of one day from the pre-season track testing days available in the following year.”
In addition to changes regarding reserve driver tests, the FIA announced the following:
- The limit on straight-line tests has been reduced from eight days to six. Teams will have the option of trading one of these days for an extra four hours of testing in a full scale (rather than the normal 60 percent-scale) wind tunnel.
- The qualifying format has been altered to so that the slowest eight cars (rather than five) will be eliminated during the Q1 and Q2 sessions, to accommodate a larger grid.
- The penalty for a driver’s using more than his official allocation of eight engines per season has been increased: the driver will receive a 10-place grid penalty in two races, rather than just one. (Obvious question: Suppose the driver uses engine number nine in the season finale? Does he get a 20 grid-spot penalty, or does the second 10-place penalty get carried over to the next season?)
Allowing reserve driver testing seems like an answer to an obvious need. Last year saw the introduction of three rookies (Jaime Alguersuari, Romain Grosjean and Kamui Kobayashi) during the course of the season without the benefit of any testing. With an in-season testing ban, the reserve driver scheme has become a joke. Even experienced testers, such as Luca Badoer at Ferrari, get no experience with the car during the season, which leaves them ill-equipped to jump into the car on a moment’s notice.
Ferrari’s solution to replacing Felipe Massa during the season, after Schuamcher proved unable to fill in, and Badoer’s attempt proved abysmal, was to hire an active driver away from one of the other teams (Giancarlo Fisichella, from Force India).
But even allowing one day’s testing isn’t really an adequate solution. Cars are developed throughout the season, and the reserve drivers, both to keep fit, and to keep current with the ongoing developments, should be allowed to test on a regular basis. The best solution would be to allow testing at each race weekend, either using the third-driver method on Fridays, or adding a day of open testing on Thursdays. Race promoters would almost certainly support this, as they would be able to sell tickets for an expanded race weekend.
Is this likely to happen? It took the FIA ten years to realize their blunder regarding grooved tires. It’s apt to take just as long before they acknowledge the folly of the in-season testing ban.