As I write this, all bar one of the 12 Formula 1 teams are doing something not seen in the sport for four years. They’re testing. Not an activity that’s out of the ordinary for an F1 team. But it’s the fact that they’re allowed to do it during the season that makes it unusual.
Since 2009 teams have been forbidden from testing during the season as a cost-saving initiative, save for a single test for evaluating young, up-and-coming drivers. As a result teams have had to make do with far less testing. Last year they collectively covered 76,000km (47,200 miles).
That may seem like a lot but just six years ago – with one fewer team in the sport – the total was a staggering 411,000km (254,700 miles). That’s greater than the distance between the earth and the moon. The restrictions on testing have allowed teams to save money. It’s been a win-win situation for the sport, as this has been achieved with no reduction in the quality in the racing nor the reliability of the cars.
We’ve had four close races with as many different winners this year. Last year, for the first time ever, all 24 starters were classified at the end of the European Grand Prix. That hasn’t stopped some teams lobbying for an increase in testing. But yesterday it seemed the weather was trying to tell them something. The teams arrived at a wet track - and a damp surface is little use for testing. The circuit dried out, then the clouds blew in again and dumped more rain on the track.
Crunch time for Ferrari
It is largely at Ferrari’s behest that the teams find themselves at Mugello, less than two hours away from the Maranello factory where the scarlet cars are assembled. In fairness to Ferrari, when they were pushing for the return of in-season testing last year, they would not have known how badly they would need it right now.
The F2012 is over a second per lap off the pace of the fastest cars and only Fernando Alonso’s brilliance has kept him within ten points of the leader in the drivers’ championship.
The team are bringing new components to their car throughout the test and will have more in time for the next Grand Prix, Alonso’s home race at the Circuit de Catalunya a week on Sunday. Their success or failure will determine whether Ferrari will be championship contenders or not.
With that in mind, now is a good time to review their odds. Alonso is priced at 15.0 to win the drivers’ championship – remember that dipped as low as 6.0 after his shock Malaysian Grand Prix victory.
You’ll get the same price for Felipe Massa to win at least one race this year. This isn’t great value - Massa’s been thrashed by Alonso since they became team mates in 2010.
This is reflected in the early odds for victory in Spain: Massa is priced at 150.0, Alonso at 20.0. The latter is a long shot, but Alonso often produces something special at home. Last year he snatched the lead from fourth on the grid and held up a train of rivals in the opening stint.
The test has at least given drivers the opportunity to appear at a track seldom visited by F1. The locals showed their appreciation, 15,000 of them turning up despite the rain on Tuesday. The drivers returned the compliment. “It was a pleasure to be driving at this track again,” said Alonso. “It’s a spectacular track and it would be nice to be able to race on it.”
Mark Webber agreed, comparing Mugello to one of F1’s sterile modern venues in a posting on Twitter: “Did ten dry laps today around Mugello, which is the same as doing 1000 laps around Abu Dhabi track in terms of satisfaction.”
Keith Collantine is the editor of Formula One blog F1 Fanatic