We are just weeks away from the start of one of Formula 1′s most open and uncertain seasons for years. Teams have been desperate to get mileage on their new cars with just three official pre-season test sessions prior to Bahrain, but even the Spanish weather has been unusually fickle. Out of last week’s four-day session at the most southerly of Spain’s numerous testing venues, Jerez, two days were a complete washout, placing even greater importance on this week’s Barcelona test.
What can be deduced so far? In truth very little, but in the absence of real facts, we are left with traditional timesheet PR and that has been more prolific than ever before with the seeming eruption of Formula 1 accounts across the Twittersphere. From the most esteemed journalists to the most dedicated fans of the sport to the teams and drivers themselves, there is a veritable feast of F1 on Twitter. For those of us who devour every morsel of F1 ‘news’, Twitter accounts are burgeoning with seemingly endless opportunities to ‘follow testing live’.
This is a real breakthrough for Formula 1 whose fans are used to playing second fiddle to other sports when it comes to access and interaction. You only need to look at the continued frustration from the armchair spectators at the lack of Formula 1 coverage in HD to see just how insatiable their appetite is. With other leading sports not only embracing High Definition but also branching out into 3D and other cutting edge technologies, F1 has to avoid being left behind in the media stakes. F1 is the fastest moving, most technologically advanced sport on TV so it should be similarly ground-breaking and progressive in its adoption of the latest media and communication technology.
Twitter and Facebook have allowed those who work in the F1 paddock’s inner sanctum to do their own bit to bring the fans closer to the sport. Autosport and BBC journalists are among the frontrunners with live test coverage and regular news insights but the teams themselves have really embraced this new found link direct to the fans. McLaren stood out in 2009 for their use of Twitter (@thefifthdriver) while Williams have been lauded in recent weeks with frequent updates from @clairevwilliams, the team’s press officer. The new teams are also helping to breathe new life into F1 with Virgin and Lotus adopting very public and approachable faces. It will certainly act as a wake-up call for the more established teams. Getting a piece of the action will be harder than ever in 2010 with up to 13 teams and 26 cars on the grid.
But let’s get back to the subject of Timesheet PR. In the past, you just needed a rough idea of fuel loads to guesstimate car and team performance in testing, but with the abolition of refuelling during races in 2010, it is now a more intricate job. As a consequence of the refuelling ban, 2010-specification cars have bigger fuel tanks so teams have a much greater window to test in. Lap times can differ by seconds rather than the usual tenths or hundredths of seconds depending on fuel loads, so the fact that Michael Schumacher “languished” in tenth place on the combined times from last week’s test means absolutely nothing without knowing his set-up, fuel loads and tyres. Not that it makes a difference for some unseasoned Twitter commentators for whom ‘you are slow on the timesheets, ergo you must be slow’ is the daily mantra. Testing is more about analysis than running commentary. Finding that happy medium is where the better quality journalists really make a difference.
This week sees the final test session of the pre-season period take place in Barcelona. And for those of you who have not overindulged in a pre-season testing binge, the Formula 1 season actually starts in earnest in Bahrain with free practice on 12 March. That’s when we’ll know who is quick and who is not…