This edition of Reporters will bring you the latest developments from Formula One to the Coronavirus pandemic as it looks to start the season in Austria in a month’s time.
As the season starts in July there have been questions about another positive test in the paddock. In March the first race was cancelled after members of McLaren tested positive for Coronavirus. So, what lessons have been learned to ensure there isn’t a repeat…
FIA learned lessons from Melbourne
The FIA says they have learned from the season’s aborted opening event, so that Austria, unlike Australia, would go ahead even amid positive test for Coronavirus.
FIA President Jean Todt and the medical commission chairman Gerard Saillant believe they can avoid a repeat of what they considered “unpredictable” circumstances that caused Melbourne’s cancellation in March.
Todt told Sky Sports in a wide-ranging interview, “I think it is very unfair to attach blame to what happened in Australia. Things were moving so quickly. You know that 24 hours before the start of free practice there was no reason not to do the event.”
“The government was in favour of hosting the event and the organisers were also in favour; the promoter, the local motorsport federation, everybody was [in favour].” He says that in Melbourne the problems just got bigger and moments before practice when it became clear the event was not possible anymore.
Todt continues: “It happened in other parts of the world, in other events. One week after Australia, we were running the WRC Mexico Rally and then on Saturday, during the event, due to emotional pressure we decided to stop the rally early.”
“The day after, in France, were the mayoral elections. On Sunday there were the elections. On Monday all was stopped. That’s why I said It would be unfair to criticise [what happened in] Australia. It was just unpredictable.”
He said when we get to the first race, the aim was not to face the same unpredictable situation. A ‘biosphere’ has been outlined by the sport and social distancing enforced to stop teams interacting. Professor Saillant drew red lines, beyond which, continuing would be out of the question?
Saillant said “I think the situation is quite different between Melbourne and Austria now. The knowledge of the virus is quite different. It is possible to prevent and to anticipate a lot of things.”
“If we have one positive case, or maybe even 10, it is possible to manage perfectly with a special pathway for the positive case.
As the sport returns next month and the threat of the virus not going away teams may be forced to withdraw from races if there is a positive test. How will F1 deal with any outbreak of the virus in the paddock?
Positive test could force drivers to miss part of a weekend
Formula One motorsport director motorsport and technical Ross Brawn says drivers could be forced to miss part of a weekend if one of his mechanics tested positive for coronavirus when the season resumes, Ross Brawn says.
However, says the chances of a positive test were “very low” because of the health and safety protocols that have been set up. Speaking to BBC News, he said, “If somebody comes down with the symptoms, you’d have to deal with it straight away. We would have to isolate that group until they could all be tested.”
In a wide ranging interview about how the season would begin while minimising the risk of spreading the coronavirus by re-starting its season, including extensive testing for everyone involved, medical support with every team, and an on-site test facility for rapid response.
Part of this plan is to create what Brawn calls “families and sub-families within teams” to limit contact between people as much as possible.
He told BBC News, “If we do get a positive case then we can isolate that case and people who have been in contact with that person very quickly,” Brawn said.
He added: “A group of mechanics working on a car, while they will be wearing PPE (personal protective equipment), it will be very difficult to socially distance.”
If then one then tested positive in one of the groups, then we would have to isolate that group until they could all be tested. This could mean that drivers may need to miss a session as anyone within a test group would have to isolate until the results come through.
The drivers have also been playing roll in restarting the season, the GPDA says it wants to play its role in protecting staff from the virus. Chairman Alex Wurz described the move as ‘beautiful’…
“Beautiful” the combined efforts to restart F1
Chairman of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association Alex Wurz says Formula One’s combined effort to ensure the safety of the paddock for its return to racing in July has been “beautiful”.
The Austrian has been the drivers reprehensive in the meetings between Liberty, the teams and FIA about the way the sport can resume with minimal risk in Austria.
Wurz compared efforts to minimise the risks of spreading COVID-19 at closed doors F1 events with the regular focus on safety that the sport has pursued since the 1994 Imola tragedies. Wurz said in a Sky Vodcast, “It was not a negotiation. It was just to discuss and debate and use the collective brainpower of everyone involved in our sport to ensure that we can come back as early and also as safely as we can.”
“Motor racing, especially since the [Ayrton] Senna/[Roland] Ratzenberger accidents in Imola, even though we’re pushing every day the driving to the limit, we became an incredibly safe industry. Everyone in the motorsport world, from the mechanics, the team bosses, the officials, is used to very strict safety protocols.”
Wurz says it was beautiful to see that everyone was involved throughout the process, to ensure the safety of participants, and also for the nation. Stressing that F1 will only visit countries where the local medical system won’t be affected by hosting an event such as a Grand Prix.
Adding, “We’re not going to nations and we’re not going to places where the crisis is so acute that there is not enough capacity in the medical system – the medical system within our closed circuit, but definitely in the medical system around in the nation or the region.”
With lockdowns and social distancing being in place in various countries around the world, how have the drivers been keeping busy creating content?
F1 in lockdown
With two months until the start of the Formula One season, many drivers have been placed into lockdown due to Coronavirus. But that doesn’t mean a total lack of Formula One content. It’s just a bit… different.
Many of the younger drivers have taken to platforms like Twitch playing video games, including various esports events. Charles Leclerc has also dabbled in some Fortnite action with Barcelona and France striker, Antoine Griezmann.
Following the stream with Griezmann, a fan kindly sent the 22-year-old a banana costume in honour of the Fortnite character, Peely.
Kimi Raikkonen posted a video of himself bouncing along on a row of trampolines? There was something strangely hypnotic in seeing the 2007 world champion joyfully bouncing back and forth before your very eyes.
George Russell, who is living with his parents, has gone in search of the ultimate home workout. If the standard plank position wasn’t hard enough, the 22-year-old displayed this punishing version with a little help from his fitness coach, who is staying with the Williams driver at his parents’ home during the lockdown.
Lando Norris has also taken part in BBC’s Big Night Spin challenge, where participants spin around 10 times and attempt to kick a football, hit a cricket stump, swing a golf club, or anything else sport-related they can get their hands on.
Meanwhile down under, Daniel Ricciardo may have created a new viral video challenge after throwing prowess by successfully chucking a water bottle into a bin on the back of a moving truck.
The animal story now, Carlos Sainz’s dog Olivia to begin with but by the time ‘Heart and Soul’ kicks in, she’s cracked it.
Teams returned to work this week following a two month shutdown, however its not business as normal. What adaptions have been made by the teams to ensure social distancing?
The new reality for teams
From today many employees of Formula One teams are returning to work for the first time since March, with a new reality of strict tests and safety measures. After two months of shutdown, teams can now begin to prepare upgrades and the cars for the opening races in Austria in five weeks.
However, it is not business as usual, with strict distancing measures and a change in priority meaning new procedures have been put in place from the moment workers arrive. The first sign of change is outside the factory, according to Motorsport.com, with new signs telling staff: ‘I respect the distance.’
Those social distancing restrictions mean that only a limited number of staff can work at the same time, with departments having roughly half of their personnel numbers for now. Also, teams are splitting shifts and stopping mixing between departments, with designated doors and stairways being assigned to them to minimise the risk of cross-contamination from different groups of staff.
They must wear face masks, and even before they leave from home have been asked to do a personal temperature check.
On arrival at the factory, all staff must go to a stand-alone building to undergo a serology test under medical supervision to discover if they have any coronavirus antibodies.
If the test comes back negative, then the staff member is allowed to return to work. If, however, there is a positive test then a further swab test will be given to find out if the person is carrying the virus. The results of that will decide if they are cleared to work or must be put in self-isolation for 14 days.
Designs of factories have changed with hand sanitiser and perspex screens to minimise the risk of the virus being transferred, with desks and other working environments also spread out more to keep people apart.
Pirelli’s challenge is different it has to co-ordinate thousandths of tyres across the world. How is it responding to this challenge of not knowing where races will be going ahead and restarting production in one of the worst hit countries?
Pirelli’s challenges for restarting season
Pirelli’s head of F1 Mario Isola has outlined the complex challenges that lie ahead if Grands Prix is to restart in July, but he sees no insurmountable obstacle that could stop the sport getting the show back on the road.
Speaking about the challenges to Motorsport.com, Isola says that Pirelli has several things it needs to resolved before the season begins. This includes ramping up tyre production in response to a compressed calendar, as well as finding solutions to minimise the risk of virus transmission between his staff and F1 teams at events.
Saying, “We are trying to work with an approach of flexibility. The current regulation says that we need to know the tyres in advance, by eight weeks for European events and 14 weeks for overseas events. Obviously, this is not valid in this particular situation.”
Isola says that the stockpile of tyres for the opening races could be used when the season gets going, having recovered the tyres sent to the first few races. The equipment for European events is slightly less complicated because we use trucks and not containers.
But says they will need to ramp up production soon, with them needing 35,000 tyres in a couple of months and they are discussing standard
With F1 planning for teams to remain in their own ‘bubble’ at events – so they do not mix with other competitors – Isola said that one thing that still needed resolving was how companies like his that work across all outfits can safely operate.
Saying “I know the plan of Formula 1 to keep the teams as a ‘bubble’ to avoid contacts between teams. The problem is that we are everywhere,” he said.
Formula One’s teams are bearing the brunt of the global economic fall out of the crisis. Teams may need to mortgage cars, buildings and even well-established teams aren’t immune?
McLaren mortgages historic cars
McLaren could be considering raising up to £275m to help see it through the Coronavirus pandemic crisis by mortgaging both its Woking headquarters and part of its spectacular collection of historic F1 cars.
The move has close parallels with Williams who have a recent arrangement by Williams which saw the Grove team take a loan from Michael Latifi, also by co-incidence a shareholder of McLaren, with the assets used as collateral including over 100 F1 cars from the Williams collection, as well as the factory.
Sky Sports has reported that the strategy is being pursued by McLaren and its advisor JP Morgan after an application for a £150m loan from the British government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy was turned down.
Although McLaren has sold many cars over the years, the team owns a huge collection of historic cars, including many associated with World Champions, with those connected to Ayrton Senna regarded as the most valuable.
In May 2018 the Brazilian’s 1993 Monaco GP winning MP4/8 was auctioned by a third party and bought by a well-known racing driver for the euro equivalent of £3.7m. the collection could be worth up to £250m with the facility valued at £200m.
Like many in the industry the pandemic has hit McLaren’s car division hard thanks to the collapse in sales. Staff from all parts of the organisation have been on furlough in recent weeks.
McLaren has declined to give any details of on any plans to raise cash. A spokesman told Motorsport.com: “Like any other British businesses McLaren has been severely affected by the current pandemic and we are therefore exploring a variety of different funding options to help navigate these short-term business interruptions.”
Some of the teams best heritage cars were tied to a previous financial arrangement in 2017 when the company was in the process of buying back the shareholding of the departed Ron Dennis. The cars were retained after the company paid off the £37.5m agreement to buy back shares.
The oldest on the list on that occasion was MP4-1, the very first carbon fibre car built for the 1981 season after Dennis’s Project 4 outfit was merged with McLaren.
That’s all from Reporters this week goodbye