Why You Should Watch… F1 testing

Why You Should Watch

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What’s the cheapest way to see F1 cars in action – and get a first look at new machinery? Go to an F1 test.

Greg Kingston went to last week’s test at Jerez in Spain and explains why you should give it a try.

I first experienced the raw power of an F1 car in action when I went to testing at Silverstone as a teengaer in the hope of seeing Nigel Mansell in his new Ferrari.

Since then I’ve followed F1 to Barcelona, Istanbul and Monaco. Race weekends are great fun but I’d like to share with you why I think F1 fans should consider going to testing just as seriously as going to a race.

Many of you will have been to F1 races before. I’ve always found the atmosphere tremendous and super-friendly, both at the track and out in the town. Fans of all nationalities with support for every team on the grid descend on the town or city.

But like any major sporting events, F1 race weekends are busy. There are inevitably crowds and queues everywhere, from restaurants to transport to bars and toilets at the track.

And then there’s the cost. From my experience Istanbul was the worst – perhaps sensing they were holding their last grand prix for a while, the prices in restaurants and bars were hiked up for the weekend. Travelling fans will already know about the spike in air fairs and hotels akin to, but not quite as bad as, summer holiday price increases.

F1 fans will already know well what the race day experience is like. More often than not you’re confined to one stand or one area of the track. I can’t describe that as monotonous, as it is always interesting to see how different drivers drive the same corner and experience how the cars handling changes over the race distance, but it certainly isn’t the same experience as a TV viewer would expect.

Testing is altogether different. Not better or worse, just different. For a start, there’s no real competitive element to what’s happening on-track. Testing delivers an all-day session with diluted track time but ultimately more laps. Even with just eight cars present the teams logged over 2,300 laps in four days.

If you’re a keen photographer like me, then access at testing is also far better. Jerez offers tickets with two levels of access, one allowing access to around a quarter of the track and the other around a half. On Sunday the whole circuit was open. None of the temporary stands used at race weekends are present either, allowing you to stand right up to fences sometimes just a few metres away from the cars on track.

Be prepared for a tiring day though. Race circuits are really big places, and if you’re given free reign in testing you can easily end up walking the whole circuit distance and then some.

There are fewer facilities at the track on test days, but there’s still food and drink aplenty and merchandise too, though the latter tends to be from the previous season. Attendance at testing is much lower than on race weekends, which makes for a comfortable experience but less of an atmosphere.

That said, this is Spain and, on the days when Fernando Alonso is testing the stands quickly fill up. This year day one was a Sunday and the weather was good. So many people came in (estimated 40,000) that the whole circuit was opened. Make sure you check the driver schedule and if a local driver is testing then get to the circuit earlier. Ticketing is all at the circuit and there are not many booths open so it pays to plan ahead and arrive early.

Away from the track, as testing attracts far fewer visitors you’re more likely to see other fans or even F1 team members around town. In 2014 we stayed at the same hotel as Pirelli, Williams and Marussia.

We had breakfast with the Marussia boys whilst they were all on their phones trying to work out where on earth their cars were (they were still in France, being trucked down from the UK!) and had a couple of very fun nights out with the day crew from Williams. You might even bump into a driver or two.

Something you’re unlikely to see on a test day is a flat-out lap at qualifying speed. Teams are clearly running set programs, and whilst they’re quick they’re not on the edge. There are exceptions though, and teams do certainly put in qualifying sectors if not often putting a whole lap together.

A final word on the costs. Generally I’ve found flights, hotels and restaurants to be just as cheap as you’d expect out of peak tourist season, with no increases just because F1 is in town. Day tickets at Jerez are €15 (£11) for general access and €25 (£18) for full access.

That’s great value compared to race weekend tickets, bearing in mind you can get access to stands at most of the track as well as many areas that would not be open for a race. The entire cost of my trip for Jerez testing this year cost less than my weekend race ticket for Barcelona last year.

If you have a few days’ holiday available and you’re at a loose end, I highly recommend checking out an F1 test to whet your appetite ahead of the season. You won’t get competition or many cars on the same piece of track at the same time. What you will get is a relaxed atmosphere and plenty of laps and access, all at a knock-down price.

See Greg’s pictures from testing at Jerez on his Flickr account.

Over to you

Have you been to an F1 test session? Would you advise others to try it? Share your tips and experiences in the comments.

Why you should watch…

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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17 comments on “Why You Should Watch… F1 testing”

  1. I love to go and watch testing, unfortunatly I often work hard at that period of the year. I used to go to Barcelona tests from France for about nothing expensive. From 100€ round trip from Paris, took the train to Montmelo early in the morning, paid between 7 and 10€ in 2008 and 2009 to get full track access – and was like a kid when the V8 engines screamed in the foogy morning.

    I’d love to go to F1 testing every year, that’s an unrivaled experience. I’ll always remember when we were the first ones (almost) to see the Brawn GP. Amazing.

  2. Absolutely agree with the article.
    I went many times to Mugello circuit, which is close to my hometown.
    When Ferrari used it as its own test track the venue was closed and it was no bad to look for a nice place in the wood and find a way to watch most part of the circuit competely free. There was pairs of nice spots around Casanova Savelli “S” and you could often share some little room with other fans, amateur photographers or even very funny farmers that had just stopped their tractors to have a nice break :-). It was more like a pic-nic than a race attendance, but if the weather was good you could get back home in the late afternoon with a bright tan, thirsty and tired, but happy.
    Official sessions, with open track and many cars on the circuit, of course don’t have the “clandestine” appeal of private tests, but are much more comfortable. Buying tickets may require a long wait, so it is absolutely worthy to wake up earlier and be there before the run starts. But as you’re in you are free to walk around all the circuit (Mugello stands on gorgeous hills) and look for the better spots to see cars and drivers approach fast corners and tremendous up and downhills. Sandwiches and drinks are available at the venue, so it is easier to stay in for the whole day, and last time I was there with a little extra payment you could also get on the main grandstand, having a thorough view of the activity at the boxes and receive some cheers by Nico Rosberg (for example) during a break.
    Ticket price was not bad (if I remember well around 20 €) considering that you could spend all the day in. Of course weather plays a great role in having a great day out or spend the day under a inadeguate cover, suffering cold and getting back home with a flu (at the worst having seen no scene on the track), but in the end if Formula 1 came again to Mugello for testing sessions I’d definitely go and watch again, even if I live now two hours driving away.
    Better spots? At the end of the main straight you could really stay very close to the track and “smell” cars while they brake from the highest speed. The bends of the first car of the track are also very difficult, and you can clearly see how the drivers struggle to keep the car within the right line. But my favourite bends are Arrabbiata 1 and 2: from the field at the exit of turn 2 you can see (not from a close position, but near enough) how a car can turn the apex of a bend a 200 kph and more, which is absolutely impressing. I remember Vettel and his Red Bull being absolutely brilliant at that curve.

    1. Nice post David. It almost felt like I was there.

      1. Thanks Glenn.

  3. I’d actually really like to go to a testing session but living in Australia makes it difficult. :(

    1. I agree. They should test on a real race track like Philip Island :) I’m guessing they would throw a chicane in near the end of the straight just to ruin it.

  4. I think the only issue with testing is that you can be waiting around for long periods of time where nothing is really happening.

    When I was at Jerez a few weeks back there were really long periods of time where all you would see is the odd very slow installation lap. And even when cars are out doing laps you can tell that there not really pushing all that hard a lot of the time so its not really as exciting as an actual race weekend where all the cars/drivers are there & you can watch them been driven flat out.

    Attending a test is fun don’t get me wrong but its nowhere near as fun, as exciting or as interesting as a proper race weekend where you get not just F1 but a bunch of support categories to fill in the gaps where there’s no F1 cars on track.

  5. The one thing that keeps amazing me, is the fact that tests in Spain often see more fans in the stands than some other venues see on the race day.
    I remember when he joined Ferrari. The day he had the first outing in the Ferrari, stands were as packed with fans as if it was a race day.

    1. I remember when he joined Ferrari.

      Alonso that is! :)

  6. Todd (@braketurnaccelerate)
    13th February 2015, 14:25

    14hr flight for me to most test sessions. Otherwise, I probably would. What I’d really like though, is a video or even a scoring stream.

  7. I’d echo Greg’s sentiments here.

    Last year after the British Grand Prix, I took my partner and her photography and car mad Dad to the post-Silverstone two day test. Tickets were ridiculously cheap compared to the previous weekend’s race and while there was no racing, we got to sit wherever we wanted around the final corner and along the start-finish straight.

    We got to see Lotus trialling 18-inch Pirelli wheels for the first time and even got to see Jules Bianchi make what would end up being his final appearance in a Ferrari. My partner’s Dad loved the freedom he had to take loads of photographs of the different cars and my partner was able to see F1 cars in action in flesh for the first time.

    If you’re an F1Fanatic and have an opportunity to visit a test, I’d highly recommend doing so.

    1. the absolute best way if you have the time is a motorhome ; free camping right outside the gates combined with cheap entry means you get lots of bang for your buck
      unfortunately my winter schedule hasn’t fitted in with the timing the last couple of years [ i like to go to the algarve after jerez but the tests are now too early in february , and ferbruary to early to be as far north as barcelona ]
      personally I go with a friend and , because I find all day too much we share a ticket with a lunch time pass out , over 4 days that gives you a lot of trackside time

  8. The only time I’ve ever seen recent era F1 cars in the flesh was at the Barcelona test in 2009. We happened to have a 4 day break booked in the city, and then discovered they were testing, so decided to pop up to the circuit for a day.

    If I remember correctly it was about 7 euro entry. That being said, a beer once inside was also 7 euro, which felt a bit steep considering it was just testing, but anyway, captive audience I suppose.

    I thoroughly enjoyed the testing environment and it was great to see and hear the cars in the flesh at a fraction of the price of a gp. While you never can be sure in testing exactly what the teams were doing, it seemed apparent then that Brawn had a good car, so it was nice to see later in the year that my feeling hadn’t been completely wrong!

    The one element that was a bit uncomfortable, was as it was the year after Hamilton’s first title, and only two years after his rivalry with Alonso, Hamilton wasn’t exactly popular with the predominantly Spanish fans. Every time he came round, a large group in the grandstand around us stood up to hurl abuse and make a variety of hand gestures. It certainly made myself and some of the other Brits around that day feel a bit uncomfortable, even if some of us weren’t necessarily Hamilton fans. It did sort of feel like some weren’t really F1 fans, and that they’d just turned up to hurl abuse, because it was cheap to get in.

    Luckily the 7 euro ticket enabled us to walk around the circuit and to other grandstands, so this didn’t cause us grief for too long.

  9. I love testing. I’ve never been to a race or to a testing session, but I love the whole idea of testing. After months of inactivity, teams take to the track a new car and, despite the high reliability we’ve seen in recent years, anything can go wrong in testing. Drivers staying out for thirty consecutive laps four times a day, the whole uncertainty over everything, the sun rising and setting with the cars still running, and finally test drivers! There is every reason to love testing, it seems to me to be an anachronism, bringing me back to the times of Fiorano and, as Hakkinen said, to when McLaren was running at two different tracks at the same time. It makes me think that an F1 car is made by wise, but normal engineers who come up with an idea and run it for a day to see if it works, rather than think that they are simply computer geniuses who run simulations to see if it should work, rather than actually testing it. Jerez, Mugello, Valencia are also very welcome as rarely visited venues, and with the new looks of liveries, cars and helmets make everything seem surreal.

  10. Thanks for every who read and commented on the article, and to @Keith Collantine for publishing.

    Probably a little old now but I also did a very short comparison between the Ferrari, Williams and Mercedes engine notes.


  11. Sounds amazing. I will consider for 2016!

  12. Sounds brilliant, Greg – got me very tempted…

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