A Formula 1 season like no other


Five months ago, Formula 1 appeared within two hours of the start of the season.

The coronavirus was spreading around the world and when a McLaren member tested positive and the team withdrew from the Australian Grand Prix in mid-March, the event was cancelled before your first workout on Friday morning.

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This sparked a turbulent period in motorsport.

“When we left Australia we were obviously in the dark and none of us knew where we were going or what to do,” Ross Brown, managing director of Formula 1 motorsport, said in an interview.

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“Fortunately, Formula 1 is an industry that thrives on logistics, thrives on organizational problems and thrives on tough problems, and so as soon as we started getting together, we began to see how we could work.”

On July 5, the race resumed with the Austrian Grand Prix, at the Red Bull Ring without fans. More than seven months have passed since the final race of 2019 in Abu Dhabi and the longest off-season in Formula 1 history.

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Formula 1 worked with the International Automobile Federation, the governing body of the sport; 10 teams; and other stakeholders such as tire supplier Pirelli and racetrack organizers to discuss next steps.

Along with Australia, nine more races have been canceled or postponed in China, Bahrain, Vietnam, the Netherlands, Spain, Monaco, Azerbaijan, Canada and France.

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There are now 13 races on the calendar, starting with two in Austria and including two at Silverstone in England, a second on Sunday and three in Italy at different circuits. More races are expected to be added and Formula 1 hopes to host 18 of them.

“We knew that the protocols that needed to be implemented had to ensure that the people in the countries we plan to visit and the people from Formula 1 that participated were safe and had better conditions,” said Brown.

"It was my goal and the ambition of all Formula 1 competitors to make the paddock one of the safest places in the world."

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Dr. Gerard Zayan, President of the FIA ​​Medical Commission, worked with the World Health Organization to implement the protocols.

“The key was to create this biosphere in which we all work,” added Brown, “and within it we create separate bubbles. The reason for the bubble is that if there is a case, then I hope we can keep it inside this bubble. "

The bubble consists of one to 12 people who are not allowed to mix with others in another bubble. “We don't want them to be too big, because if we do get a flash, then the bigger the bubble, the bigger the problem will be,” added Brown.

Mercedes, for example, has 24 bubbles of one to five people smashed depending on the vehicles they travel in. Thus, the team of 12 mechanics was split into three bubbles.

Each team is also limited to 80 employees per race. This figure has been reduced from about 200. Each person entering the pen is tested every five days and must always wear a face mask or face shield.

Formula 1 works with the Luxembourg-based company Eurofins Scientific, which analyzes the tests. According to the latest data, 17,504 tests were carried out from June 26 to July 30. So far, there have been only three positive results.

In the first two, not a single person was on the team. But third person was Sergio Perez, Racing Point pilot. He was quarantined with his personal assistant and physical therapist, who both tested negative. Perez missed the British Grand Prix and will also be out of Sunday's race after testing positive again. He was replaced in the team by Niko Hulkenbergwho drove a Renault last year.

“We are pleased and proud of what we have done so far, but we are not satisfied with what has already been achieved,” said Brown.

“We understand that what we are dealing with is a very dynamic issue. After each race, we had a tense debriefing with all the participants, we decided how to tie any loose ends or fix any problems, and so as we continue, we will get stronger and stronger in our path. meet this new challenge. "

Challenges included Mercedes drivers Valtteri Bottas and Ferrari's Charles Leclerc returning to their homes in Monaco between races in Austria in July. The Formula 1 staff were requested by the sport, and the F.I.A. stay in the country in your bubble.

Leclerc received a warning from F.I.A. because he deviated from his bubble; Bottas was not warned.

Leclerc said he went home but was tested for the virus before returning.

“Yes, I went home for two days and then did two tests to make sure the result,” he said, noting that the tests were negative.

Brown said that “One or two drivers do not quite understand the importance of the protocols that were in place and that should continue to work even when they are away from the track, so we had to remind them of their responsibilities. "

The pandemic has financially affected most Formula 1 teams, but McLaren and Williams are the only ones to release the data.

McLaren lost $ 227 million in the first quarter of this year. On May 26, the company announced the layoff of 1,200 of its 4,000 employees across its three divisions. About 75 lost jobs will be on the Formula 1 team.

On June 29, McLaren received a $ 195 million loan from the Bahrain National Bank, which McLaren CEO Zach Brown said put the company in a good financial position.

“The bad news is over,” he said. “We are financially healthy and we are winning offensively when Covid was hitting.

“We ran to problems to solve them quickly and turn the page. We are right where we want to be right now and we look forward to using the best business model, so we are in a pretty good mood. "

Three days after McLaren announced job cuts, Williams reported a $ 45.5 million loss in Formula 1 revenue in 2019.

Williams said it will consider selling the entire company or a minority stake to help it overcome the crisis.

“We've got a number of very interesting potential investors, and we're talking to them right now,” said Claire Williams, deputy team leader, but did not say who the investors were.

“They are of high quality, which we are very pleased with, and we are continuing this process. We said we expect the process to take three to four months, and we are still on track. "

On the track, Mercedes continues to lead. Lewis Hamilton, who is trying to equal the record of seven titles won by Michael Schumacher, is ahead of his teammate Bottas by 30 points.

The first four races were held without fans. So it will be in the next four Grand Prix. With regard to the following events, starting with the Gran Premio Della Toscana Ferrari 1000 in Italy, Formula 1 will make decisions based on the situation in the country.

Brown said he is satisfied with the plans that have been implemented and with what has been achieved in a short period.

“While no one would want this to happen, in some ways it was a big challenge and that is the nature of people in Formula 1; they love to solve problems, ”he said.

“This is not what we wanted, but we met it and found solutions that were rewarded in themselves.”

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