'Is this thing working?' What F1 teams actually do in pre-season testing


Three days of pre-season testing will officially kick off the 2024 F1 campaign. Chris Medland breaks down what could be on each team's testing schedule as well as what their number one priority will be

2024 Bahrain Ferrari

Pre-season testing will provide the first taste of F1 on-track action in 2024


Launch season is finally over and the chance to see all of the cars out on track is very nearly here. But while the mere sight of Formula 1 machinery lapping for hours on end is compelling after a break from action, what actually are the teams up to during pre-season testing?  

“Testing… Testing… Is this thing working?” 

I know, it might be a predictable opening to a testing feature, but it’s rooted in the core reason that F1 teams do pre-season running: Is this thing working? 

It’s almost counterintuitive that as F1 cars have become more and more complex, the teams’ ability to run them on track and prepare for the new season has been reduced. They’re now limited to just three days of testing before the opening race, when only a few years ago there were three separate tests comprising four days each, across multiple venues. 

So although reliability has improved massively due to the regulations defining limits in the number of power unit components that can be used, plus the improvements in simulation and dyno testing, the number one priority during pre-season is proving out reliability. 

Bahrain Red Bull pre-season testing 2023

Drivers will be providing almost constant feedback to their engineers to ensure testing is as effective is possible

Red Bull

Teams hope to do that during any shakedowns that take place — with some scheduling two promotional filming days prior to the test in order to check if anything needs addressing — but if they don’t get clean runs then the first order of the test itself is to ensure any problems have been resolved. 

Of course some will only rear their head later on as mileage increases or in certain scenarios, but the initial running should highlight any major issues, and then teams can start to move onto a performance-based item. 

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Finding a drivable base set-up for the new car is one of the most crucial tasks, because each car will have a wide range of set-up options. Getting a baseline that works as a consistent starting point can be as simple as one relatively short run of pushing laps — not even reaching double figures — but that tends to come when a car is more familiar and an evolution of its predecessor. For heavily changed designs, it can take multiple days to find a baseline set-up, and in some cases teams will end the test without a certain outcome on that front. 

While that work is going on, teams are also busy behind the scenes tackling items that relate to the car being on track but don’t actually focus on the car’s behaviour. Systems need to be correlated between the car and the garage, ensuring track data is accurate and the car can be monitored effectively. 

The power unit manufacturer will also have a long checklist in terms of data transfer and performance, understanding how the power unit is operating within a new chassis and whether there are any overheating issues, for example. 

The latter can include understanding the impact of different cooling options both on the power unit but also aerodynamically, but that is a specific test item for a very busy aerodynamics team. Constant speed tests and using aero rakes (the cheese-grater like devices hanging off various parts of the car) tend to only be allowed at agreed times at the start of a day’s running, but are crucial to correlate how the theoretical wind tunnel data matches up to reality on track. 


Aero rakes (pictured above) and the like are expected to make several appearances throughout Bahrain’s three-day test

Sen van der Wal/ANP via Getty Images

Other high-priority items might seem mundane but are crucial to ensuring teams avoid penalties or unwanted surprises at certain tracks. The pit lane speed limiter is tested, the maximum steering wheel lock, and how much the car weighs when it is fully assembled and running are also logged. Taking it a step further, teams will then check the car does not exceed any legality limits when set-up parameters are changed in search of more track-specific performance. 

Along the same lines, the FIA has systems that need checking and these tend to happen at the end of each session of running. Starting procedures, aborted starts, VSC periods — these are checked even without anything changing from the previous year, but any new items also tend to get a run-through. 

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Specific tyre compound testing was a bigger factor in the past when there were more days of track running, but now that learning tends to be done during simulations. Race simulations allow this, although teams take different approaches on this front and after a full grid procedure to check equipment and communications to the pit wall, some will run a complete simulation adhering to tyre regulations, while others may use just one tyre compound type or even three. 

Each team prioritises the above in different ways, which is why there is no one stock approach to testing that you see replicated ten times over. Some still prefer to run a driver for a full day and not potentially lose time in the lunch break changing over cockpit configurations, while others use a driver per session. The latter has become more popular as reliability has increased, leading to high mileage and the need to take driver fatigue into account as that can impact on the data being gathered and is an added variable on top of so many.  

There are obvious similarities, though, and in Bahrain the track is at its most representative in the final two hours of running each day. In these conditions, teams will look to carry out qualifying and race simulations, with both drivers getting a go at each (although for teams that split running between drivers each day, these tests can also take place at the end of the morning session). 

Ferrari 2023 F1 testing

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All of this work is planned out meticulously, with a lead engineer gathering the requests from the team and organising them into a perfect schedule — if there were no interruptions — in order of priority each day. But inevitably disruption such as red flags or car reliability issues lead to delays, so the schedule evolves rapidly. 

The team will keep working through the highest-priority items and at the end of an interrupted day then review what is left over. Of what a team deems to be top priority tests, these will be tackled at the first opportunity, while lower priority items could be combined or carried out when the track is at its worst at the start of a day. 

One of the benefits of pre-season testing taking place at the same venue as the opening race of the season in Bahrain is the ability to push items back a week. Anything not tested but viewed as important enough prior to the first race is often carried out during FP1, including any parts modified due to findings from the test itself, or specific tyre compound testing. 

With just three days of pre-season running and so much to try and work through, it’s clear why reliability has to be the number one priority.