Coronavirus protocols should prevent withdrawals
McLaren team principal Andreas Seidl is confident new protocols in place for this weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix should prevent a repeat of the team’s race withdrawal in Australia.
The British team prompted the cancellation of the opening race after one of its team members tested positive for Coronavirus. Nine further races were cancelled or postponed with the season beginning this weekend in Austria, with new procedures to prevent an outbreak.
Speaking to the media earlier this week, Seidl expressed his confidence in the new procedures that would mean McLaren would not have to pull out in the event of a positive test result.
He said, “I’m very happy with the plan that has been developed under the leadership of the FIA, which clearly gives us clear procedures of how we execute the race weekend in Austria.”
“What is different now to Australia is that we have a clear concept of isolation of the teams, between each other. We will show up in Austria in these different groups, and we are building, in addition to that, set groups within the team.”
Seidl says that if anyone developed symptoms of Coronavirus there would be testing and immediate isolation until the results are confirmed within a few hours. If the test was positive they will be isolated and if it was negative they could keep going.
McLaren will have back-up personnel on standby in the UK to fly to Austria should one of the race team be forced to pull out. All members of the race team have undergone regular testing in recent weeks, with all results coming back negative.
Seidl says that there was the risk of a driver being forced to miss a session due to a positive test result remained. Adding, “We have to be honest, the risk is there, because in the end it’s a virus, and as we have seen, it can spread quite quickly.”
He said that the virus can develop at any time which makes it important to follow the procedures.
Vettel vows to give it his all
Sebastian Vettel has vowed to give it his all as he heads into his final season with Ferrari. This weekend after a four-month hiatus the four-times champion heads to a very different sport, with extra precautions need to be made between teams to ensure social distancing is maintained.
Vettel was the story of the shutdown when he announced he would leave Ferrari at the end of the season. But he appears refreshed following the longest break between Grand Prix’s since the end of World War Two, he is nonetheless excited to be getting back into the thick of the action.
He told Crash.net, “It’s no secret that we’re all really keen to get back on track, as it’s been such a long time now. At the start, the break was enjoyable, as usually we are always travelling around the world and we have little time to spend with family and friends, but the time has come to get back on track.
“I’m ready to give it my all, even if it won’t be the same without the fans there supporting us. The Austrian track is like a carousel that goes round really quickly but I like it a lot, especially as it is high in the mountains which I love.”
Vettel says the team needs to be realistic when it comes to the pecking order seen at the tests.
Mercedes reinventing operation ahead of Cowell’s departure
Mercedes F1 CEO and team principal Toto Wolff says that the company’s High-Performance Powertrains division is “reinventing” to adjust for the impending departure of its long-time boss Andy Cowell.
Today the team will begin transitioning to its new management structure, as the new managing director Hywel Thomas, who will have responsibility for F1 powertrains, during a period of transition. Speaking on a vodcast Wolff said “There are two angles to it. Obviously, Andy needed a new challenge, and I completely understand that.”
“He came to the decision in December that he wanted to do something else, and it was about reinventing HPP without this one single point of reference, because Andy is very charismatic, a strong leader, with a lot of skills.”
Thomas has been working at Mercedes HPP division for the last sixteen years, the move is effectively a promotion for the Welshman. Wolff is adamant that Mercedes is well versed at promoting from within when key figures leave to minimise any disruption.
he said, “We’ve there before, Ross [Brawn] leaving, Bob Bell leaving, Paddy Lowe leaving, Aldo Costa leaving, Mark Ellis leaving, and we’ve always been able to replace with the next generation up,”
“Equally we have also realised in the past that there have been vacancies that we weren’t able to replace from within – James Allision is probably the prime example, joining a few years ago [from Ferrari].”
Red Bull best prepared for a season since 2013
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner says the team is emerging from lockdown and starting the season in “the best we’ve been prepared” since 2013, the team’s most-recent title-winning season.
The first two races of 2020 will take place at the Red Bull Ring, where Max Verstappen has triumphed in the last two years, while the dominant Mercedes squad has struggled with reliability. The dutchman set the second-fastest time in testing but was half a second behind.
At the time it was expected that Red Bull would be the main challengers to Mercedes, but it unknown whether the teams were showing their full potential given the variables. Speaking to Motorsport.com, “It’s going to be an exciting year – it’s going to be intense. Races are going to come thick and fast.”
“For me, it feels that we’re going into the season better prepared or it’s the best we’ve been prepared since probably 2013. Going into a season, certainly, in the hybrid era it’s represented our best off-season.”
“Our second year in our relationship with Honda that feels more integrated, very much part of the team now. And we’re excited – we’re really excited to go racing.”
Red Bull was the only team in the top three to test their 2020 car during a 100km filming day, while Mercedes and Ferrari conducted tests with their W09 and SF71H 2018 cars at Silverstone and Mugello respectively.
Horner says the benefit allowed the team to practice the key functions of the pit stops, as well as getting used to the new protocols because of the pandemic. He also reviled that the decision was made a while ago not subject Verstappen to the fourteen-day quarantine imposed by the UK government.
“Everything was going against me” – Ocon
Esteban Ocon says his eighteen-month break from Formula One as a “very strange period” as he prepares to make his return to the sport in Austria this weekend.
The Frenchman hasn’t raced in the sport since Abu Dhabi in 2018 and spent last season on the sidelines in a reserve role with Mercedes. He missed out on a seat at Renault for 2019 following the signing of Daniel Ricciardo, Ocon was picked up by the French manufacturer to race full-time through this year.
The late cancellation of the Australian Grand Prix and subsequent delay to the start of the 2020 season due to the Coronavirus pandemic has prolonged his return. Speaking to the media, Ocon said, “It’s been so long that I’m waiting. A year and a half is just crazy, it seems like everything is going against me for me to restart.”
“It’s been a very strange period. I took it as an extended time to prepare, time to get ready. It’s been way too long. Last year was very difficult, [but] this year is a different feeling, because I’m into a great team. I have a great challenge ahead with a competitive car. I look forward to restarting.”
He says you have to have a very different mindset when you find a challenge ahead of you, which Ocon knew how much he wanted. Since his final F1 start in November 2018, Ocon has taken part in five days of testing, three of which came during pre-season testing with Renault.
He arrived in Austria last week to take part in a test with Renault, which he says didn’t take him long to feel he was re-acclimatised.
Austin says too early to decide on race
The prompter of the United States Grand Prix Bobby Epstein says it’s too early to make a call on the fate of the 2020 United States Grand Prix, and he’s in no hurry to get a decision from the Formula One.
According to the theoretical calendar released in May, the race is still scheduled for its original dates of 23 – 25 October, as part of a four America leg starting in Montreal on 09 – 11 October and ending in Brazil on 06 – 08 November. These dates have yet been confirmed by F1, and further clarity on what happens after the Italian GP on September 6 is expected soon.
Scheduling flyaway races is more complicated than those in Europe, because of the complex and costly transport arrangements. F1 is keen for the long-haul events to provide finance, even if they don’t pay the usual fee for a race with spectators.
The country has had one of the highest outbreaks of Coronavirus, with 2.57 million cases and 119,500 deaths. While the state of Texas has had 167,000 cases and 2,424 deaths from the virus. The race is heavily supported by the taxpayer.
Epstein told Motorsport.com, “I don’t know if we can say the race is on or the race is off. A decision is going to be made, but it hasn’t been made yet. I think F1 are making all the plans to have a race if they can have a race. We don’t have to press for an answer.”
“I feel for Chase [Carey], and all the things that he’s having to balance, and I do trust that he’s going to make as many destinations as possible while still not getting people and teams stuck”
He says that the circuit can be prepared within three weeks, and the decision on whether the race can go ahead varies on if it’s held behind closed doors. But says the decision is not one they can decide at the last minute.
Saying “You have to trust that they’re going to do what’s in the long-term interest of the business, and that definition is going to be different this year than in a normal year.”
Epstein says that he is willing to make financial sacrifices if it in the interest of the sport, as well as cancelling this year’s race, as long as it still accomplishes the long-term goal.
Epstein says he’s had no dialogue with the local or state authorities about the race: “I actually haven’t had conversations with them. There’s no reason to even have that conversation with them at this point.”
Sirotkin’s Renault return
Sergey Sirotkin has been confirmed as Renault’s reserve driver for the 2020 season. The Russian was the team’s reserve driver in 2017-18 and this year the role will give greater importance as drivers could miss sessions if a member of their team tests positive for Coronavirus.
The 2020 season will begin on Friday with practice following a four-month delay, and with strict measures in place to stop any outbreak of the virus in the paddock.
If either Daniel Ricciardo or Esteban Ocon test positive, or even if they have been in close contact with other team members who test positive and are awaiting test results, Sirotkin will be in place to step in.
team principal Cyril Abiteboul said “We’re pleased to welcome Sergey back to the team for this year. Given the current circumstances, we find ourselves in, we must have plans in place for any situation which might occur.”
“We know Sergey very well and he, likewise, knows the team. We’re looking forward to welcoming Sergey this weekend in Austria.”
Sirotkin added: “It’s great to be back with Renault DP World F1 Team as reserve driver. I know the team very well having been with them throughout the 2019 season.”
“I understand the importance for a team to have a driver ready to fill in quickly should the opportunity arise, especially given the current situation the world is in.