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Why is F1s Barcelona pre-season test being run behind closed doors?

Formula 1’s pre-season test in Barcelona will be closed to fans, both in-person and from TV broadcasts.

Written by Hugh Waring, Edited by Harshi Vashee

As of the 26th of January, Formula 1 has confirmed that the upcoming February testing will be ‘behind closed doors’. The Barcelona test, initially scheduled for 23-25 February is the first opportunity for teams to test their newly built 2022 cars, following the introduction of arguably the biggest rule change F1 has seen in decades. It had originally offered fans to see the cars flying around the track for the first time, to begin to see the new era’s pecking order.

This insightful opportunity has been closed following a statement delivered via F1’s website :

“The first outing is a lower key, pre-testing track session at Barcelona on 23-25 February, allowing the teams to shake down their all-new-for-'22 cars for the first time in the same place.”

“However, as is traditional with teams’ pre-testing-type events, the running at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya won’t feature live, race-style coverage or live timing, but will include content and best lap times at the end of each day.”

This argument sounds like F1 will be using the traditional pre-season testing venue in Barcelona as a so-called “shakedown” over 3 days, and teams will have the opportunity to learn and understand the new regulatory cars - a similar style of event that can be usually seen by teams hosting private shakedowns in Silverstone, Barcelona, Imola and at Ferrari’s Fiorano track. F1 has noted that the keenly interested fans of the sports will not be allowed to enter the Circuit of Catalunya over the 3 days in February. However, media personnel will have the opportunity to attend and publish relevant news articles, whilst individual teams will continue their own content of the Barcelona shakedown over their various social media accounts.

Many fans of the sport would have been in high anticipation of the upcoming Barcelona test. There may however be some purpose behind this move by F1.

The first possible reason is that, as per usual, new regulations in Formula 1 have always led to higher breakdowns and failures among the teams. Most notably, in 2014 with the transition to the hybrid engine era, many teams struggled with reliability in the power units. This obviously is not desired, as it affects the broadcasters and team sponsors ability to promote the brand of Formula 1, as many outsiders may see this unreliability as off-putting. Although broadly, the regulations for engine components are the same, the teams have been simulating the effect of ground effect channels that have been reinstated in the 2022 season, along with the new 10% E10 fuel mixture which may cause a reduced level of horsepower to the hybrid engine.

Although teams should be able to manage this new fuel mixture change, teams will most likely be using the Barcelona shakedown as a detailed period to analyse the new 18-inch Pirelli tyres that are going to be used during the upcoming season. It is possible that many of the teams will be strictly focused on how these new tyres work and how different these compounds of tyres are to previous iterations. Consequently, teams may not bring to Barcelona their final 2022 challengers but are more likely to bring a lower-spec chassis. It has been rumoured that a few teams have found potential loopholes in the new regulations, thus, these teams may not want to show their hand to competitors with a month to go before the first race in Bahrain.

Lastly, it is quite well known that Liberty Media goes where the money is in recent years. Although not confirmed, it would not be out of the question that Bahrain and the Sakhir circuit has asked for a more exclusive role in introducing the new era of Formula 1 as the Kingdom of Bahrain provides a substantial amount of money towards being on the calendar. This appeasement from F1 will ensure that the promoters in Bahrain will get the best of their money's worth. This will also save teams money and time travelling between countries, as the first race of the season is hosted in the same location.

Nonetheless, the official pre-season test will be broadcasted on TV and a more official live timing system will be updated. The circuit will also be open to fans who wish to see the highly awaited beginning of a new era for Formula 1. The test will be run between 10-12 March, only a week before the season opener in Bahrain.

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