A different view of testing


By Perry McCarthy

There I was, mid-January, on the phone to Ed Foster and I said, “Guess what! I’m going to all the Formula One tests.” Then, Ed says, “Why? Who with?”

I’ve no idea why I replied in a Groucho Marx voice, but I did: “I can’t tell you, I can’t tell you”. It wasn’t a stutter; I was just answering both questions. So anyway, Ed, who’s long since stopped asking why I try out impersonations on him, says “You can write an article on it for us.”

I couldn’t work that out; he wanted a whole article about things I couldn’t tell him? Groucho was still in my head: “A child of five would understand this. Send someone to fetch a child of five.” He assured me he meant testing. “Argh, no, no, please! Testing is so boring Ed, I can’t write about it!” I was on a roll with Groucho quotes: “those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well, I have others…” I ended up using one of those other principles and agreed to the request.

I flew to Seville on February 2 and drove to Jerez. I love that track – last time I was there I pounded my Audi R8R around for many a mile in preparation for Le Mans. I have two over-riding memories of that visit: number one, my team-mate Michele Alboreto gave me a present, which was a book with a line drawing of a sexy lady on its cover.

“Perry. ‘Ere is for you. It’s a compilation of all da things we ‘ave learned about all da women over 2000 years.” I opened it and, of course, each page was totally blank. The second memory was that testing was boring – and that was when I was doing the testing! However, that previous boredom-meter level was greatly superseded by standing, shivering in the cold, watching seemingly agoraphobic F1 cars play peek-a-boo.

What happened there? Well, the main news was to do with who was racking up the most laps and, even though Lewis was ill and Nico had a neck problem, the Merc clocked up plenty of them. Nobody was fooled by its lack of a headline lap time – not even Ferrari, which clearly won that part of the winter testing championship with Kimi and Sebastian fastest on three of the four days. That’s encouraging – but the boys in red would have noticed that they were 7kph down on the silver things (that had goodness knows how much fuel onboard).

A couple of weeks later I flew out to the second test. I’m not keen on flying – I was OK up until I had a very big crash at Oulton Park in 1984 where my Van Diemen and I departed from activities on the ground. I knew it was an omen earlier in the day when I signed on for the race and the organisers gave me a boarding pass. Strangely the crash didn’t pose a mental problem with getting back in a race car…

So, as you can imagine, I was less than delighted to note that, on the low-level approach to Barcelona, we flew over an oil refinery. I just love it when the pilot comes over the intercom and announces that in the event of a ‘water landing’ you can use your seat cushion as a flotation device. Really? I’ve always thought that once the plane nosedives in to the sea at 600mph, the flight’s just about over. Hey, if you’re on the right kind of drugs, you’ll notice you can use your sick bag as a stopwatch. But an oil refinery? I reckon an unplanned visit into that pretty much closes down even the most optimistic of scenarios…

In a nutshell it was the same with test two and test three in Spain because Merc treated us to exactly how much it has up its sleeve and, basically, it’s not looking like a happy takeoff or landing for the others, unless you believe in fairy stories – and the one this reminds me of is where the big Toto Wolff said, ‘I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house in’.

Time to start finding some bricks boys!

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