The first race of 2024 is fast approaching as teams gear up for the new FIA Formula 3 campaign. But pre-season testing is a hugely important couple of days for teams prior to lights out signalling the start of competitive racing.

Rodin Motorsport’s F3 Team Manager Sam Waple goes into detail about why the three-days are so crucial for teams, what the planning process is going into the test and whether or not you can learn anything from the timing sheets at the end of the day.

So just what happens at pre-season testing?

“It's basically a case of warming up all the team after winter and making sure that we've blown off the cobwebs off,” Waple explains. “It’s not just the drivers but also all team members making sure that everyone's ready to go before we get racing.

“Often you have personnel changes or slightly different procedures you want to run, and you have to make sure that they all come together. It gives you an opportunity to make sure everyone is up to speed with what they're doing.

“When you get a completely new lineup of drivers like we've got this year, it's a case of making sure everyone is gelling together and working well.”

Before there are boots on the ground and rubber hits the road, preparations have begun months prior to anyone arriving at the track. The long winter break is an opportunity for teams to learn from their recently completed season and put new plans in place for the upcoming campaign.

Teams will formulate their run plans for testing over the winter break
Teams will formulate their run plans for testing over the winter break

It’s also a chance for new drivers to get acquainted with their new teams and begin developing a working relationship with those that will hopefully set them up for success on track.

“The mechanics go through everything on the car, get them completely stripped down to do a full rebuild. Anything that needs changing out on a yearly basis will get done. The gearboxes are fully rebuilt for the start of the season, everything gets painted again and completely refreshed. That’s especially true for us this year with the new livery and look for the team.

“The engineers will go through and review the previous year in detail over the winter and try and find where we can improve and what we were really lacking. From there, they’ll go about making a test programme to help us tackle any issues that we might have had or go over things that we were struggling with within the team.

“Then we'll have the drivers in for seat fits and simulator sessions. We do a lot of sim during the winter to make sure that they are up to speed and for us it's a really good opportunity to start building a relationship because there's very limited testing in F3. You don't get a lot of time to spend together and learn each other's quirks, so we sort of try and bridge that by doing it in a simulator.

“Then we strip the cars back down again, put them into boxes, make sure we’ve got all the equipment and send them off, ready to go and catch up with them a few weeks later.

Teams and drivers will get used to how each other work ahead of the season beginning
Teams and drivers will get used to how each other work ahead of the season beginning

“The fact that we go from the test straight into racing in Bahrain and in Melbourne, we have to be super prepared. There's no going back to the workshop and having a reset, you're just moving forward and so it's very much an exercise in being as prepared as we possibly can be before you even leave the UK.”

With just three days to gather as much data as possible, teams are always looking to maximise every second they spend out on track. As Waple explains, there is an extensive plan going into the event formulated over the winter that is largely based on existing data.

“Very busy and very hot normally. In Bahrain, we work out the tents and it can be quite intense, but we put in a very structured approach for the testing. We try and make sure that we detail the days out as much as we can before we start just to keep everyone as productive as possible, because they're so busy.

READ MORE: Pre-season expectations: What each team will be aiming for in 2024

“We don't want to waste time by not being in sync with what we want to do so we keep it very structured, but we try and fit as much in as we can, so for the mechanics and engineers, it is a bit of an onslaught as you go through those test days.

“You're just trying to learn as much as you physically can, ready to go racing. We start very early in the morning and often, if we've got some big test items to do, they often can drag into quite late nights, so you certainly feel like you've earned your money.”

But even the best laid plans can come undone. Teams must be able to adapt and overcome any unforeseen events. Run plans can be adjusted for a multitude of reasons that aren’t always negative either, as the Rodin Team Manager says.

“We start with a plan A if you like. That can change depending on what you might find. If you get there and you have a certain balance you weren't expecting for example in the car, then you’ve got to actually go a different direction and that can alter your test programme.

Pre-season testing can indicate who will be strong during the season if you look at the right information
Pre-season testing can indicate who will be strong during the season, if you look at the right information

“Also, if you have a test item that you want to try on the car and that actually gains you a bit of knowledge in a certain direction, you might decide to then carry on that way rather than what you originally had envisaged.

“You'll adjust to achieve that, and we can always have problems as well with things we weren't expecting, crashes and things like that, you just have to do your best to adjust what you might have wanted to do into making the best of what could be a bad situation.

“You have to be a little bit on the fly, fairly flexible but it's very rare that we deviate from what we're trying to achieve.”

So, after the thousands of laps completed by the entirety of the grid, the laptimes are all available to see and the final event ahead of the season starting proper is over.

But what does it all mean and is there really much you can learn from studying a lap chart when rivals are on such different run plans? Yes, there is!

READ MORE: F3 Explained: How teams find and sign drivers

“I think you can actually (read into results). Of course, you want to be right at the top of the timesheets, not at the bottom, but I think often you see a slight change when you actually go racing, but I think when you look back at pre-season testing over the years, generally the top five drivers are the ones that are then there over the course of the year, so I think generally speaking, it does reflect pretty accurately with who's gonna have a good year and who isn't.

“I'd be lying if I said I wouldn't be disappointed if we weren't at the front of the timesheets at testing because it does sort give you a fairly clear picture on what you're going to have for the year.

“By day three, you've pretty much got a good picture of where people are and what they've got. We do a lot of analysis of other teams’ timings, race runs and when they're on track and that sort of stuff and we can pretty much get a feel for who's going to have a good race.

We certainly can with testing being in Bahrain and then that leads on into the rest of the year. It does give you a fairly clear picture of what you're going to have, so fingers crossed we have a good few days there.”

Pre-season testing kicks off around the Bahrain International Circuit on February 11 – 13, with the first round of the 2024 season taking place in Sakhir later in the month on February 29 – March 2.