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Teams divided on Bahrain test

NEWS STORY
07/10/2016

Some time ago, mindful of the fact that the pre-season test will be the first time all eleven teams get to run the new wider tyres in anger, Pirelli has been urging for testing to be held in the Middle East where conditions will be similar to those of the opening races.

However, in terms of logistics and costs, a number of teams are against the idea and wish to continue in Spain, namely Barcelona.

Pirelli has already expressed concern that the mule cars currently being used by Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull to test its 2017 prototype tyres are not producing similar levels of downforce to those expected next season, claiming that that while the downforce levels being created are 10% up on 2016 levels they fall at least 20% short of the levels that can be expected at the beginning of next season and as much as 40% by the end of the year.

Already seemingly always in the firing line, the Italian manufacturer fears that it will be held accountable for any issues encountered in the opening races.

A number of teams, including Mercedes, Ferrari, McLaren, Renault and Force India have now written to the FIA giving their support to the Bahrain test, while Red Bull and Williams are among those against the proposal.

"The situation is that we have the biggest change in tyre regulations probably for one or two decades and Pirelli have asked the FIA if they would support testing in Bahrain, which is outside Europe," said Paddy Lowe today, referring to the fact that any testing outside Europe has to have the approval of the majority of the teams.

"As I understand, a majority of teams support that request," he continued. "For me, the important point that Pirelli were asking for is some hot condition testing of the compounds particularly. The structure of the tyre is created and tested in the lab but the compounds they can only evaluate in real circuit conditions and unfortunately the mule car programme which is running at the moment has delivered three cars which are very helpful to the process but they are not delivering the level of aerodynamic load that will be seen next year.

"So for me it's a matter of supporting Pirelli's request to contain the risk of arriving at the first race as being the first event with hot conditions and there's real risk to the show. We've seen what can happen, for example, in Indianapolis 2005.

"We mustn't forget that we need to put on a show," he concluded, "we need to run a 300 kilometres race with sensible numbers of tyres, so that's not an inconsiderable risk and should be covered. So that's why we particularly support that request."

"Diametrically opposed," countered Williams Pat Symonds. "The cost of doing a test outside of Europe is vast. Depending on exactly how you do it and how much you have to ship back to the UK, how much you can ship on to the first race - we're talking of a minimum of 300,000, probably a maximum of 500,000 so a likely figure sitting in the middle of that.

"Now to a team like Mercedes, I'm sure that they can put contingencies in their budgets to cover things like that. A team like Williams simply can't, it's a significant amount of our budget, it is unaccounted for and therefore I think it is the wrong thing to do.

"The rules do have an anomaly in them in that I'm sure everyone knows that at this stage of the year you normally need unanimous agreement to change the rules, but there is an anomaly in that there's just this very one thing where at the moment the rules do not allow you to test outside Europe but there is this anomaly that by majority you can agree to test outside Europe. We are opposed to that.

"The thing that the rules do not allow you to do is to split the testing so you can't have some people testing in Europe, some people testing outside.

"Paddy mentioned we need to have safety and the Indianapolis situation and things like that but I think it's very very clear in the requirements that Pirelli have signed up to and indeed that Pirelli have asked for that we're not running cars to test the safety of tyres. That has to be done off the car, that has to be done before they ever see a track, so I don't think that that's an acceptable reason to go testing in the Middle East or elsewhere.

"Yes, there will be difficulties," he admitted, "but you know we're in the same boat. We are having the tyres selected for us for the first few races which personally I think is a good thing.

"If it does come about, then obviously people are going to have to do it because, as I say, we can't split the testing but it's going to make a very, very serious dent in our budget. If we do it, I think we need to consider where we do it because we do act like sheep quite often in Formula One and there's this thing of 'oh well, we've tested in Bahrain before, let's go to Bahrain.'

"Personally I don't think Bahrain's a very good circuit to go testing. We have tested there in the winter, some people remember some years ago that there was a test there which was effectively sand-stormed off rather than rained off. And even when we tested there as recently as 2014, the first few hours of the day were spent just cleaning the circuit up. If you accept you're going to stop on the way to Australia, it really doesn't matter where you stop. I think Abu Dhabi would be a much better place, maybe even Malaysia. But as a team we're opposed to the idea."

"I tend to agree with Pat from a personal point of view," said Renault's Bob Bell. "I think it's an unnecessary waste. I don't think it will make a massive difference to the show for next year. I think it's just money. All teams at whatever end of the grid could well do without having to spend.

"I'm in the same camp as Bob and Pat really," said Haas' Ayao Komatsu. "If we can test in Europe it's much better for a small team like us and in terms of a logistical challenge it's much more manageable, so yeah, in favour of testing in Europe but at the same time I see the logic for testing in more representative conditions.

"Again for a smaller team like us, it's difficult to get a comprehensive set of data and to extrapolate from what you've got, so it's quite good to test in the most representative conditions but overall I think if you had to chose, you'd chose testing in Europe."

With the teams so divided, one idea being mooted is to hold one test at Barcelona and then move on to Bahrain, or at least the Middle East.

Another issue being raised is that testing in the Middle East will not allow for proper wet weather testing, another possible scenario at the opening rounds.

Check out our Friday gallery from Suzuka, here.

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