Driving, analysing data and trouble shooting for eight hours a day without competing sure doesn't sound exciting, but pre-season testing is vital for an F1 team to hit the ground running on race day.
Running the programme
Due to the fact that every F1 team has to build its own car, testing programs differ across the grid. The top teams try to test as many of their myriad components and systems while teams towards the rear mainly try to get their cars reliable enough to finish races.
Terms to know
There is some basic terminology you should be familiar with:
Short and long runs: Teams need to get a sense of not only how fast their car is over a single lap, but also over longer distances with a heavy fuel load. Short runs help them figure out the former and long runs the latter.
Tyre compounds: The difference between tyre compounds is of extreme interest to teams. Each team has a maximum of 140 tyres to try out over a four day test. That's a total of 1,540 tyres between the 11 teams.
Flo-vis: A type of paint put on the parts of a car where the teams tech squad are interested in seeing the path of the airflow. The amount of downforce created has a big effect on performance.
Installation lap: A driver will 'crawl' around the circuit fast enough to make sure everything on the car is operational.
Constant speed test: A driver will be instructed to not go above a certain speed over' a lap that will allow the team to check things like downforce and mechanics without having to factor in different driving styles of their drivers.
Back in the groove
Aside from testing out the new cars, drivers use testing to get used to the sensations of driving an F1 car after a winter of relaxing at home, going on holiday and working out in the gym like Jenson Button.
Not always so muddy
Up until the late 1980s times recorded in testing were fairly indicative of a driver and team's form during theseason that followed. Much like the way it is for MotoGP now.
Where and how much?
Due to cost restrictions, teams stick to testing in Spain at Jerez and Catalunya for twelve days prior to the start of the season. During its more free spending days, Bahrain was a popular test venue too due to relatively higher temperatures.
Expect to see...
At almost every test, some things happen without fail
Crashes/spins: Drivers try to push their cars as much as possible but sometimes go a bit too far in trying to find their machine's limits.
Fires: Mechanical components of a car are thoroughly tested. When they succumb to overheating, the team literally feels the heat.
Car launches: Teams are content to pass on the glitz and take the covers off their new machines at the venue of a test for the attending media.