Sandbagging and testing are bedfellow terms and despite F1 firing into life every February for pre-season testing, the pecking order remains a mystery until the first race in March. Sometimes we have to wait even longer.
Niki Lauda has indicated that the formbook will become evident far earlier in 2017, with teams needing to know the true limitations and strengths of their cars prior to the first race.
Make no mistake, 2017 is a seismic regulation change. That will be evident as soon as the dust covers are lifted from their year’s machinery. Heck, the photos that emerged of Manor’s prototype prior to their collapse was enough to show the stark contrast between F1 2016 and F1 2017.
The new concepts baked into the new cars will make testing mileage all the more important. Quality of mileage will also be key, as parts will need to be tested to their limits in order to ensure that the simulations were accurate.
Last season, Mercedes were eclipsed by Ferrari with regards to benchmark lap times set in both tests. Their entire pre-season programme was based on running the medium compound tyre, as they built upon the foundations of information gathered in 2014 and 2015. Quantity over quality clearly proved successful.
A similar tactic this time around will simply mean heading into a season with a lack of information, regardless of the volume of laps completed. There are far fewer historic reference points.
As a result, more teams are going to be running the softest compounds with a need to string together some sector times in order to understand qualifying packages and complete early setup work.
Niki Lauda has alluded to this in an interview with Swiss newspaper Blick. “The Barcelona tests will be used to get to know the new rules during the first four days. The four days between the testing sessions will be used to develop updates.
“Then, from March 7 to March 10, we will do business. This time nobody will hold back and only show their cards at Melbourne. This time we want to know where we are on track.”
What it means is that the second week of testing is bound to be fascinating. Often it can raise more questions than it answers and no doubt, Melbourne will still feature an element of surprise as all curtain raisers do.
We may see drivers push in one sector, before sandbagging for two to avoid headline times and drawing rivals’ attention to the strengths within their package. Regardless, 2017 testing will be more representative than previous years, without question.