Mercedes Formula 1 technical boss Paddy Lowe is fearful of a repeat of the infamous six-car 2005 United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway if pre-season testing is not held in a warm country such as Bahrain in 2017.
Both pre-season tests are currently planned to be held in Barcelona, which is preferred by some teams due to the lower costs in holding testing there and the closer proximity to their European bases than a Middle East venue.
Bahrain hosted two pre-season tests in 2014, with the warmer conditions allowing for more stable running for teams up and down the grid.
For 2017, Pirelli is set to introduce a new specification of tire that is wider and more durable as part of an overhaul of F1’s technical regulations.
As a result, Lowe and Mercedes are part of a group of teams that are pushing to get pre-season testing moved to Bahrain so that the teams and Pirelli can fully evaluate the new tires in hot conditions.
“The situation is that we have the biggest change in tire regulations probably for one or two decades and Pirelli have asked the FIA if they would support testing in Bahrain, which is outside Europe,” Lowe said.
“So by regulation it requires a process to get there. So as I understand, a majority of teams support that request. For me, the important point that Pirelli were asking for is some hot condition testing of the compounds particularly.
“The structure of the tire is created and tested in the lab but the compounds they can only evaluate in real circuit conditions and unfortunately the mule car programme which is running at the moment has delivered three cars which are very helpful to the process but they are not delivering the level of aerodynamic load that will be seen next year.”
Lowe believes that if Pirelli is not able to conduct this testing, F1 runs the risk of a repeat of the 2005 race at IMS where just six cars started after all the Michelin-shod teams withdrew on safety grounds after the parade lap.
“For me it’s a matter of supporting Pirelli’s request to contain the risk of arriving at the first race as being the first event with hot conditions and there’s real risk to the show,” Lowe said.
“We’ve seen what can happen, for example, in Indianapolis 2005. We mustn’t forget that we need to put on a show, we need to run a 300 kilometres race with sensible numbers of tires, so that’s not an inconsiderable risk and should be covered.
“So that’s why we particularly support that request.”
Williams’ Pat Symonds expressed his opposition to Lowe’s view, citing the high costs involved that would impact independent teams more than manufacturers.
“Depending on exactly how you do it and how much you have to ship back to the UK, how much you can ship on to the first race. We’re talking of a minimum of £300,000, probably a maximum of £500,000 so a likely figure sitting in the middle of that,” Symonds said.
“Now to a team like Mercedes, I’m sure that they can put contingencies in their budgets to cover things like that. A team like Williams simply can’t, it’s a significant amount of our budget, it is unaccounted for and therefore I think it is the wrong thing to do.
“Now the rules do have an anomaly in them in that I’m sure everyone knows that at this stage of the year you normally need unanimous agreement to change the rules.
“But there is an anomaly in that there’s just this very one thing where at the moment the rules do not allow you to test outside Europe but there is this anomaly that by majority you can agree to test outside Europe. We are opposed to that.”