Limiting testing could control costs

Updated: March 4, 2004, 12:53 PM ET
By Alan Baldwin | Reuters

MELBOURNE -- Every year Formula One teams spend vast sums and travel huge distances going around in circles with barely anyone watching.

Visit Barcelona's Circuit de Catalunya for a winter test in January or February and the wail of engines reverberates off empty grandstands.

There are no fans, no television cameras and no glamour whatsoever.

By the time they arrived in Australia for Sunday's season-opening grand prix, some of the biggest and wealthiest teams had already logged more miles in testing than they will manage in 18 races.

Minardi boss Paul Stoddart said as his new car was unveiled in Melbourne this week: "Our planned kilometrage this year is 35,000 for the whole season and there are some teams that have already done that."

With the sport trying hard to cut costs, some people think it is time for a rethink when testing now costs more than racing.

"Maybe we should forbid testing," said Formula One's commercial chief Bernie Ecclestone recently. "That would save a lot of money and it would be the same for everyone.

"We have to cut the costs and make it difficult for the top teams to invest crazy amounts of money."

BAR boss David Richards agrees, as does Renault's Flavio Briatore. Both believe teams should compete in more races and trim testing.

"It's farcical that we do all this testing with nobody there," said Richards, whose team were fifth last year.

"I've been down on a cold winter's day in Barcelona with one or two Spaniards in the stand waving a Colombian flag and nobody else there.

"This business needs more exposure, it needs to go more globally, therefore it needs more events."

Teams are banned from testing for a month after the end of the season but can then undertake as many as they want from November until the season starts in March.

During the season there is a gentleman's agreement that limits testing to a generous 48 days -- far more than the likes of Minardi can afford to do.

Cutting back would save millions but any decision needs to be unanimous and that is unlikely to happen.

"We could certainly cut the testing back but the problem is Ferrari," said team boss Frank Williams recently.

"I'm not pointing the finger at them, I am certainly sympathetic, but they have got their own test track right outside their window and even more pertinent is the fact that they are on the Bridgestone tire."

While Michelin supplies four of the top five teams, Bridgestone haa only champions Ferrari among the elite and want as much track time as possible. Much of testing focuses on tire selection and compounds.

"They will fight to keep that testing," added Williams, whose team were runners-up in 2003. "It's a difficult one to undo unless there is only one tire supplier."

That is unlikely to happen.

"In truth, to start telling companies that they are not able to compete in a technical environment is I think quite a big step," Williams technical director Patrick Head said last month.

"So the only other way you can do it is to restrict the amount of testing."

"The question is, how is that step going to be taken because ...certainly Ferrari have been the people who have said no they won't accept anything.

"The difficulty is that you put all the team principals in a room together and try and get agreement and it ain't going to happen."