In the world of IT and technology, testing is part of everyday life. It can reveal a system’s strengths and weaknesses and allows you to make constant improvements.
In the world of F1, testing is also ongoing—and just as important. Preseason testing generates piles of data that teams use all season long to fine-tune cars. The two official weekends of track testing are also an opportunity to experiment a bit and see what the competition is up to—albeit without actually racing.
Here’s a look at what makes preseason testing so critical, what data teams gather, and what analysis of that data can yield.
Why Is Preseason Testing So Important?
1. Teams are testing a new generation of F1 car design with some obvious learning curves.
This year, preseason testing was especially critical and a chance for teams to gain insights into how drastically different car designs would perform. This should affect everything from how teams approach the layout of each track to how drivers do their jobs. For example, certain track features could be more challenging with the new design than in prior years. Increased downforce and minimum weights may mean bigger adjustments for the street circuits, downhill turns, and slower turns.
Our priority for these early races will be focusing on making the most of the car that we have, maximising the points we can score while learning and evolving how we can run the car to unlock the inherent pace.Toto Wolff, Team Principal & CEO, Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team
As George Russell shared on his Instagram, “Testing complete. Lots to analyse before the first race but the team are ready for the fight.” That analysis will include sensor data from the car, which will be stacked up against lap times and other strategic choices.
2. It’s a chance to see how closely off-track and on-track testing data match up.
Testing happens year-round in simulators and wind tunnels, but track testing is a different animal. Preseason shows how accurate the team’s data is between the simulators and the track. The better the correlation between the two, the fewer course corrections. With such significant changes this year, it can help reassure teams that they’ve pulled off a design that’s more likely to work “out of the box.”
3. It establishes baseline performance data to measure against during the season.
Teams and drivers are getting to know their new whips, and a big part of that is the analysis of baseline preseason data. Teams collect varied and unstructured data points for analysis, such as:
- Performance data from sensors on the cars measuring fuel, handling, speed, aerodynamics, braking, and more
- Trackside footage
- Onboard car footage
- GPS tracking data
This delivers a benchmark to measure against as the season progresses, with a clear view of strengths and weaknesses for ongoing improvements. For the teams opting to make any significant changes between now and the first race, this data can be priceless.
4. Drivers (especially rookies) can get more “seat time.”
Sure, race simulators, endurance training, and g-force strength exercises are valuable, but nothing can replace time on the track—especially for the sole rookie driver this year, Guanyu Zhou, China’s first F1 race driver. Drivers undergo rigorous preseason training to get physically and mentally ready, but time in the car on track helps to familiarize them with the physical car and gives them a chance to create some muscle memory—especially in terms of how closely they can follow other cars, which is another big change this season.
5. Engineers can address issues with more lead time.
Testing happens all the time, but this year, preseason trials carried a bit more weight—as did the cars. As we mentioned in a previous post, new, increased downforce and larger weight minimums are throwing a few curveballs, including resurfacing an F1 handling headache from years past: “porpoising.” If there are more major changes that can be pulled off before the first race, now’s the time.
6. Competitors can catch a glimpse of what other teams are doing.
Testing is a time when teams can get a closer look at the rest of the field—and that “paddock chatter” can be both speculative and strategic. There’s little hiding what goes right (or wrong). Thus, knowing that others are watching what you’re up to may mean teams opt not to run the car at full power to hide some capabilities. Everything’s in plain view, so it’s a key time to size up the competition before they’re wheel to wheel on the track.
7. It’s a chance to play around with big innovations—whether you keep them in the long run or not.
During preseason, teams will often run and test different programs and strategies to dial things in…and dial out any issues. They may experiment with different tires, car designs, and fuel loads—or bigger things, like comparing two totally different cars.
For the Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team, this year’s preseason testing was a time to put the new W13 through its paces—but also a time to experiment with interpretations of new FIA regulations, including the removal of sidepods. The title of a recent article in Road & Track really summed it up: “Mercedes’s Trick Sidepods Are the Whole Point of F1 Testing.”
If you’re going to push the envelope and experiment with something cutting edge, preseason is the time to do it. Russell agrees: “I’m proud to be a part of a team that’s pushing innovation.”
And we’re proud to be their tech partner behind the scenes, helping them to innovate with data. Stay tuned for round one in Bahrain, March 18-20!