Trials and Tribulations Of The In Season Testing Ban

Antony HerbertAnalyst IIINovember 3, 2009

NURBURG, GERMANY - JULY 10:  Sebastien Bourdais of France and Scuderia Toro Rosso is seen during practice for the German Formula One Grand Prix at Nurburgring on July 10, 2009 in Nurburg, Germany.  (Photo by Peter Fox/Getty Images)
Peter Fox/Getty Images

In recent years it was obvious that Formula 1 was in danger of falling into extinction. Small independent teams could not compete with the big budgets and expertise of the likes of Ferrari and Mclaren. This led to fall outs and in fighting within the sport, in turn leading to rumours of disbandment and a break away series.

Therefore measures were brought in to accommodate this and make it fairer for the small teams to compete. Brawn GP’s fairytale season is a true reflection of this ability for smaller teams to now edge closer to the front.

Their immediate and carefully considered response to the change in regulations was used by them to maximum capacity and they were greatly rewarded.

Yet one regulation that aimed to make the sport more adaptable for minnow teams appears to be having a detrimental effect, with many criticising its place in the Formula 1 and calling for the end of the regulation.

The regulation in question is the ban on in season testing. No team is allowed to test outside of a racing weekend, with chances to acclimatise to the car given only in pre-season testing and on official practice, qualifying and race sessions.

Felipe Massa’s accident needed to be a turning point. A team were left a driver down, through no fault of their own and were seemingly punished as a result.

If Michael Schumacher had returned there is no doubt he would have struggled vastly to immediately get to grips with a car that would have been far removed from his previous Ferrari machines.

Instead Luca Badoer was given the unfortunate task of replacing Massa and was demeaned and criticised consistently for a lack of pace from the outset.

But what do you expect when a driver is thrust into a team with hardly any room for patient and controlled improvement.

We all know that throughout a season cars are modified and changed sometimes beyond recognition, meaning that all that pre-season testing for a third driver becomes awkwardly irrelevant under the new regulations.

The FIA should have given Badoer and then Kobayashi a chance to get to grips with the car in a couple of off calendar sessions.

Safety is something that has become paramount in the sport of Formula 1 and the insistence on not allowing a driver to adapt to a car is only putting the sport in a risky situation.

If drivers come into an F1 car mid-season with no testing then they are more accident prone. Button and Hamilton were dealt massive blows to their season when both of the new drivers slammed into them in Spa and questions were raised about the validity of letting two inexperienced drivers compete with more experienced professionals.


On the other hand the in season testing ban is seemingly halting something that has long undermined the sport – that of team transfers. Teams are now finding themselves being punished for poor driver choices and clumsy driver sackings.

Should a team be made to stick with their chosen driver at the start of the season, or should they be allowed the opportunity to change mid-season in an attempt to rescue a drive that could be more profitable for the team with a different driver at the wheel?

In past seasons this has proven a successful strategy. Yet this season’s testing ban has proven to make it almost impossible for a rookie driver to succeed when brought in half way through the year.

It beggars belief as to why Bourdais was shafted out of his seat when Kazuki Nakajima has provided no reason for his existence at Williams in a season where Nico Rosberg absolutely bull dozed him. William’s only saving grace with the decision to keep Kazuki in the drive is the hindsight of what happened to other teams when the line up was altered.

Sebastian Bourdais was wrongly dismissed; there are no two ways of thinking about it. He was slightly slower than his team mate Buemi, but he scored points. And for a team such as Toro Rosso who slipped backwards this season this was an opportunity well missed.

His replacement Alguersuari was the best of the rookie replacements but left Toro Rosso with just one driver capable of edging towards an eighth placed finish. Jaime was neither ready nor capable of achieving great things.

Similarly Romain Grosjean at Renault also suffered. A clumsy mistake in Belgium garnered him no fans and a general lack of pace has resulted in what might be a premature end to his Formula 1 career.

Some sympathy has to be felt for both Jaime and Romain however as both seemed penalised for being a rookie driver with not enough immediate pace.

Romain also had to deal with having a former world champion to compete with as a team mate, and one that is arguably the strongest driver on the field at the moment. Such pressure proved to be Nelson Piquet Jr’s downfall.

The teams they were chosen for in retrospect maybe should not have allowed them to partake in Grand Prix where they had little or no chance of portraying their talents.  

It would possibly have been more intriguing to see the likes of Michael Schumacher or David Coulthard return for one last flourish but as they may have produced a stronger display, but again both would have been hindered with no opportunity to test. This for any driver thinking of returning was probably the reason why such a come back did not come into fruition.

Of course we had Fisichella’s ill fated move to Ferrari to contend with, but such a selfish decision to switch teams left us with no sympathy for a driver who ditched his team to join another team in order to fulfil a ‘boyhood dream’. His lacklustre pace and disappearance of points finishes seemed karma for his greedy choice.  

Teams will now be made to justify their reasons for replacing a driver mid-season. The fans will come to expect it if a driver is replaced again by others who don’t seem to add anything extra to the make up of a team. When a driver exits a team mid-season it does much to shatter our illusion of a team atmosphere within the garage. A lack of pace seen after a mid season change just adds to our drop in our opinion.

So the FIA must decide as to whether an in season testing ban is beneficial to the sport or whether allowances need to be made to allow driver injuries to be accommodated.

Ferrari effectively finished fourth in the constructors title as a result of another teams bodywork and this should not have been allowed under regulations where equality was the number one inspiration for the testing ban.