This Reporters special will mainly focus on the latest response and developments in Formula One to the Coronavirus.
With now ten races being postponed due to the pandemic teams aren’t making money. Without the income from events the independent teams are going to bare the costs more than the manufacturers, why does Claire Williams believe that it critical racing resumes this year?
Return to racing in 2020 “critical” – Williams
Williams deputy team principal Claire Williams says a return to racing this year is “critical” for an independent team like Williams to survive, while also urging F1 to speed up a change to its “unsustainable” model.
The Coronavirus pandemic has caused the first nine races to either cancelled or postponed. While F1 still plan to stage an eighteen race season, that relies on various factors even if Grands Prix take place without fans in attendance.
Race weekends are a major revenue stream for the team, prompting concerns about many outfits’ financial security. Concerns that Williams, whose father founded and built up one of F1’s most iconic and successful teams, shares.
Williams told Sky Sports, “It is an incredibly difficult environment that Formula 1 finds itself in right now. That is why we have spent so much time locked away in so many team principals’ meetings to do everything we need, to make sure all of us come out of this, at the end of this year, unscathed.”
“A big part of that is when we can go racing again, particularly for a team like ours – one of the few true independents left. We don’t have the backing the majority of our competitors have.”
In a wide-ranging interview, she said that the teams have agreed to an outline plan to start the season in Austria in July behind closed doors followed by potentially two races at Silverstone also without fans. Williams is confident her team would be on the start line, should those July races happen.
Bit admits the situation is fluid and no one knows the situation with the coronavirus but is hoping for as many races as possible in the season. The lockdown measures vary from country to country, and with thousands of people crossing borders, it could cause a headache.
She said “This is unprecedented and this is crisis mode and it is incredibly difficult to navigate your way through. Survival is critical, and we have to put the work in now, so that should a similar situation arise, god forbid, we are all much better protected.”
Williams believes the sport has united and the bigger teams understand the work they need to do to ensure the smaller teams’ survival.
Speaking about her father’s health, Sir Frank is a high risk given his age and health problems, Williams said, “The poor man has been in lockdown for longer than any of us. He is in week eight or something like that. He has fantastic carers and lives at the factory. He is surrounded by his cars and the like. He is in great form and I hope that continues.”
Italy has been the worst hit by the Coronavirus outbreak in Europe, recently Ferrari announced the rolling out of mass testing of its workforce. The plan is being scene as the blueprint for the restart of the global car industry, but how will it work?
Ferrari roles out mass testing for workforce
Ferrari is rolling out mass voluntary coronavirus testing for its staff so they can return to work as soon as possible, which could be the blueprint for the global car industry.
Under its “Back on Track” project, Ferrari staff, families and suppliers first take blood tests to see if they’re clear and will then be given an app which will alert them if they’ve been in close contact with any scheme members who contract COVID-19.
Teams and the global car industry look to restart manufacturing and could be seen as a test to allow the F1 season to begin in Austria at the start of July. Although the testing is not targeted at the F1 team, could help if successful with restarting the season.
Ferrari aims to ensure only healthy staff resume work but if someone does get the disease, their close contacts will be alerted by the smartphone app to stay away from the plant until they’ve been given the all-clear. The region the team is based in has been one of the worst-hit by the coronavirus.
head of the UILM union in northern Italy’s Modena province Aberto Zanetti, said, “We’ve all understood we’re not indestructible, workers want to get tested.”
“This screening will allow us to take an initial picture of the health status of the tested company’s population,” said Ferrari’s head of human resources Michele Antoniazzi, adding that almost everyone offered a test had agreed to have one.
Ferrari said 500 out of the 4,000 workers at its Italian plants in Maranello and Modena had already taken tests and the company had the potential to do about 800 a day.
The blood tests show whether an employee is healthy, or might be infected. In the second case, they then need a swab test to confirm whether they have COVID-19.
The scheme the manufacturer will give specific insurance coverage to those hospitalized after testing positive and will arrange temporary accommodation and medical assistance for anyone who has to self-isolate.
Ferrari has ceased operations as its deemed a non-essential business and being Italy based it is not part of the consortium of seven teams building ventilators.
The Australian Grand Prix was the aborted season opener despite the positive tests for McLaren team members in the lead up to the race. But Otmar Szafnauer still believes the race could have gone ahead because it was ‘low risk’…
Australia was safe to go ahead – Szafnauer
Racing Point team principal Otmar Szafnauer believes the Australian Grand Prix could have gone ahead safely due to a “very low” risk of Coronavirus spreading in the paddock.
The race was cancelled and postponed hours before practice was due to start after a McLaren team member tested positive for COVID-19. Talks between the teams continued for hours and prompted confusion as the final decision wasn’t made until Friday morning following all-night talks.
The decision was ultimately taken to cancel the Grand Prix completely as concerns grew, with just three teams – Red Bull, Alpha Tauri and Racing Point – still willing to take part in practice by the morning.
Szafnauer still believes that the race could have gone ahead despite the uncertainty at the time. Szafnauer told CNN, “It was difficult to predict the future there in Melbourne, but when I look back at it now, had we raced, I think we would have raced safely.”
“The risk was very low, and I think we could have put the race on. The Australian government gave us the go-ahead to do so. However, there’s a big unknown at the time, and because of the unknown, I think we made a cautious decision not to race.”
Earlier this month FIA president Jean Todt told Motorsport.com earlier this month there were “quite a lot of different opinions”, but it was only after an “acceleration of evidence” against the race going ahead that there was enough confidence to cancel it.
Szafnauer says when the meeting finished around two in the morning the plan was to go ahead, he was surprised to wake up to be told the race was cancelled.
He added “We took a risk-averse stance, and that was probably the right thing to do. However, looking back, had we raced, I think we would have done so safely.”
Japan 2014 was the first fatal accident since the deaths at Imola. Charles Leclerc believes that his friend Jules Bianchi would now be enjoying the same success he is now enjoying at Ferrari.
Bianchi deserved the same success – Leclerc
Charles Leclerc says that his friend Jules Bianchi probably deserved a Ferrari F1 race seat more than him, and would have delivered better results than he has so far.
Last week Daniel Ricciardo listed Bianchi as one of his most underrated rivals and suggested that the Frenchman would have been as big a star at Ferrari as Leclerc has become. But his career and life were cut short because of fatal injuries at the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix.
Ricciardo wrote, “It’s another part of what makes his story so sad, because [Bianchi] would have been in a top team and a race winner by now for sure. In some ways, I feel Charles is doing now what Jules would have been doing. It’s like Charles is the delayed version of what Jules would have done with the success he’s having.”
Leclerc and Bianchi were very close friends. Bianchi was Leclerc’s godfather and served as his racing mentor, with the pair also both managed by Nicolas Todt.
Asked about Ricciardo’s comments, Leclerc agreed that Bianchi would have had a stellar career at Ferrari. Leclerc said, “Jules had shown what he had to show in F1, and there was definitely a lot more to come. But I think results like [scoring points] in Monaco when he was in Marussia, were telling a lot about his talent.”
Leclerc says that Bianchi deserved the seat at Ferrari more than he did, and the Frenchman would have shown probably even more talent than he would have had a similar rise to the top of F1.
Let’s move away from Coronavirus. The events of the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix are ones no one in the world can forget Ayrton Senna’s fatal accident in the race. The death of one of the greatest drivers won’t be forgotten, but David Brabham was the teammate of Roland Ratzenberger. He believes Ratzenberger’s death would have been forgotten otherwise…
Brabham reflects on Imola
David Brabham insists that his former teammate Roland Ratzenberger is not the forgotten man of Imola. Twenty-six years on from the darkest weekends in the history of sport which have been retold countless times since, but with the focus on the three-time world champion.
Ratzenberger joined the Simtek team to start his F1 carer after racing in touring cars, Formula 3000 and Le Mans 24 Hours, before he got the chance for the Simtek.
That lead to him getting his chance in Formula One at the start of 1994, Brabham told BBC News “He didn’t have it easy. Roland had no real help in terms of racing from his parents – his dad didn’t approve – so he went off on his own.”
“That story about him and Nick wouldn’t surprise me. Roland would have done anything to get a seat. For me he was the ideal racing driver – he was fit, good-looking and had a great smile. He was fast in the car and understood the car.”
In the days leading up to the weekend, Ratzenberger was at Imola to test his car’s carbon brakes, which the Austrian had complained about. Once that issue was resolved, the Australian said his team-mate felt a lot better and was confident of braking. Unfortunately for Ratzenberger, part failure caused him to crash during qualifying at Villeneuve.
Ratzenberger was pronounced dead at the nearby Maggiore di Bologna hospital. He was only 33. It was later confirmed the Austrian suffered several injuries, including a skull fracture.
“I don’t remember much of the rest of the day. We put the shutter down in the garage and we walked back. There weren’t a lot of people talking. Everyone was in a state of shock. Nobody could comprehend what had happened.”
Imola was a weekend fully of accidents, Rubens Barrichello, who suffered a broken nose and arm when his Jordan careered into the Variante Bassa corner at 140mph.
That continued into the race, a crash between Pedro Lamy’s Lotus went spinning off the track after it smashed into the back of JJ Lehto’s stationary Benetton. The accident at Tambello caused Senna’s death.
“The cars stop once more and you just think: ‘Oh no, not again’. You then realise it’s Senna.”
“I don’t think I got word that he passed away until that evening when I turned on Teletext. That’s when the whole weekend hit me and I burst into tears.”
The death were the last during a Grand Prix until Jules Bianchi’s death in 2015 following his accident at the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix. The full investigation into the accident will killed Antoine Hubert will report later in the year.
That’s all from this edition Reporters, goodbye