So, first week of testing over. No alarms, no surprises, trucks heading back to northern Spain and thence onwards to Milton Keynes, 372 laps of Jerez in the bank, 198 for Seb, 174 for Mark, or 1647 testing kilometres if you’re that way inclined. Just about as solid a first week as you could hope for.
Testing used to be the work of a specialist team but these days elements of the race crew look after the car (obviously with just the one car, you don’t need everybody). Ostensibly the job and the environment are the same as they would be at a race – in practice it’s pretty different.
Opinions on working at a test vary massively: many find it a little dull to be running an F1 car without the competitive edge of a race weekend; others enjoy the space and freedom from distractions that testing allows. Compared to a hundred thousand Brazilians shouting themselves hoarse across the way, rocking up to Jerez on a dark February morning takes a bit of getting used to.
It isn’t completely empty, there are people in the grandstands (and there’ll be more in Barcelona when Fernando Alonso graces us with his presence) but compared to a grand prix, it’s like being at a Sunday morning club meeting. And what applies to the grandstands applies to the paddock as well: curiously few members of the Hollywood A list were in Jerez this week. (On the upside it means our brilliant caterers don’t have to worry so much about haute cuisine and mojitos and can get down to the important issues of keeping the tea urn functioning at optimum efficiency and providing a stimulating array of biscuits).
The real difference, of course, is that testing allows a team to set it’s own agenda. Unlike the work crammed into the two, one-and-a-half hour sessions on Friday at a race, four full days (weather permitting) at a test track let’s you get much deeper into a programme. It isn’t that time here is less precious – it’s not, these days are incredibly busy – just that you have the opportunity to get jobs done properly.
Here and at a race, you’ll often here engineers and team management profess their satisfaction at having ‘got through the programme’. It’s media-friendly shorthand for having done a good day’s work and having ticked all the boxes that needed to be ticked. It’s also a little white lie: no-one ever gets through the programme because the wishlist is endless. On any given day you’ll have X number of things that you need to do and Y number of things that you’d like to do, once X is out of the way. This has been a good week: the car has run reliably, the drivers slotted back in like they haven’t been away and we’ve got a long way down the list.
So, what next? When the car returns to MK it’ll be stripped down and examined in great detail. The process of understanding the data generated is well underway, the factory continues assembling race cars and fabricating new components so that we can do it all again in Barcelona the week after next.