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Teams to vote on relaxing testing restrictions

ESPN Staff
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Ferrari has been a strong supporter of a return to in-season testing © Sutton Images

Formula One teams are due to vote on whether the current track testing restrictions should be relaxed.

Testing restrictions were imposed in 2009 as a cost cutting measure and have seen most outfits do away with separate test teams in order to save money. Ferrari, which has its own test track in Fiorano, has been the most vocal supporter of relaxing the current ban on in-season testing and on Wednesday will have the opportunity to put its argument to a vote.

McLaren's managing director Jonathan Neale told journalists on Tuesday that at least four teams appear to be behind the idea and that a vote would be held on Wednesday.

"Formula One appears to be about to test itself again on its commitment to different types of testing," he said.

"We'll see tomorrow when there is a vote on the subject, but I think right now there are four teams who are in favour of going track testing. Clearly if you've got a circuit in your backyard already funded and have the IT equipment [in place] you want to roll up the shutters and push the driver out."

But McLaren, which has invested heavily in a driver-in-the-loop simulator over the years, is not so keen to relax the in-season testing ban.

"Over the years teams have rightly developed the technology and the cost saving methods that go with moving away from dependence on track testing and a reliance more on desktop simulation and sometimes [driver-in-the-loop] simulators," Neale added. "By all means a simulator is a very valuable tool but there is a whole bevy of other simulations that go with it that help you work out what is happening on the circuit.

"Formula One is at the moment just asking itself again [if it wants to return to track testing] and there are some quarters pushing very hard for the reintroduction of track testing. I find that slightly curious because there were very good reasons for us, pre-the financial crisis and Lehmann Brothers, to impose some cost constraints to stabilise the sport and make sure it was in good health for new teams coming along.

"There were a variety of more high-profile ways of doing that such as fixed budgets and a number of teams were tempted to come into F1 on the basis that we would work on some kind of sustainable formula. So we've had partnerships between big teams and small teams, a reduction in wind tunnel testing, resource restriction agreements and a movement away from track testing.

"Yet in some quarters they are pushing very hard for the re-introduction of track testing and I don't see anything different in the environment - the economic environment is still precarious - that would take us back to track testing.

"I would be really surprised if a team could do a day's track testing for much less than between £70,000-£100,000 in Europe. By the time you've got the cars, flights and all the people it must be in that order."

One argument for more testing is that young drivers don not get an opportunity to drive F1 machinery, but Neale believes there are other ways of giving rookies their F1 break. One such idea is to give rookies an extra set of tyres to run during first practice at grand prix weekends but disagreements between the teams over how best to implement the proposal means that the extra set of tyres on offer from Pirelli at the Spanish Grand Prix this weekend will not just be limited to rookies but will be used by race drivers. Nevertheless, Neale said the idea has not been completely sidelined.

"We are supporting that as a way forward and I think that is still very much on the drawing board to discuss with colleagues in other teams behind the scenes," he said. "For all the right reasons I believe that's a good thing to do."

But for top teams like McLaren to hand over its precious FP1 time to rookies, Neale said the idea would need to be slightly tweaked.

"Just put an extra session on the Friday morning and say that's your young driver session," he suggested. "You can then get all that you need for young drivers, the media and a bit of circuit advice and engineering know-how without having to click over and do track testing.

"Particularly with Friday morning running there is more Formula One could do to give time to young drivers. The infrastructure is there, the circuit is there and the first 45 minutes of most [FP1] sessions are characterised by an install lap and then a long wait. There is a period of time there when young drivers could be out on the circuit. I know some teams are doing that but if we want to do more for young drivers we need to make that more interesting."