Testing explained: Rob Smedley on glory runs vs sandbagging
There’s always a little bit of internal pressure during pre-season testing to get the car down on low fuel, put it on the softest possible tyres and post a time that looks great – the so-called ‘glory run’ - as opposed to deliberately keeping your true pace under wraps, a practice known in the paddock as ‘sandbagging’.
From an engineering point of view, the senior engineers within the team need to balance the requirements of collecting useful data versus doing stuff that looks good and makes your rivals question whether you’ve got something better than they thought. It’s a compromise: you’ve got to offset one thing against the other. Personally, I was never particularly bothered about going fast in winter testing. For me, the main place you want to go fast is in Australia.
That said, you do have to get the cars down onto a reasonable fuel level at some point during pre-season testing. You certainly shouldn’t be running it on fumes – apart from doing fuel systems checks and stuff like that – but you want to get the car on a reasonable level of fuel, 40kg maximum, get some softish tyres on and push the car just to see how it behaves and get that information.
On the other hand, you quite often see that the top teams will run around all week on 50kg and never get the car below that. There’s absolutely merit and validity in doing that because all they're doing is collecting as much data as they can, and then they know that that’s going to put them in a much more favourable position by the time they get to Australia.
Now, some people might call that sandbagging – but honestly, I don’t think people actively sandbag. Because frankly, what’s the point? Take the Brawn situation in 2009. They turned up and, I think, surprised even themselves. It became wholly apparent by the end of their first day of running that they had this incredible beast that was probably not only going to win the first race but clean up for the first few before people caught up – and it did. If they’d sandbagged, what would it have changed?
Teams are always pushing to the maximum and doing the absolute best they can. It’s not as if they see the competitor and think, ‘Well, we’re better than them, so we’ll take our foot off the gas and stop developing’. Teams are always just wanting the next best thing, always pushing themselves to the absolute limit, so people sandbagging is of little consequence. Perhaps it makes them feel good internally in the team – but for outsiders, nobody takes much notice.