In the past weeks we got the memo: the F1 2020 season will (possibly) start in July in Austria. The F1 bosses are targeting a season of 14 to 15 races, with Europe being the host of the July - August leg, then Eurasia and Asia, Asia and Americas with the final rounds in the Gulf in December. Although many are still doubtful if the season will take place, F1 looks at different possibilities during the COVID-19 outbreak and is positive the season will begin soon enough.
Zak Brown, the team principal of McLaren thinks that a championship with 14-15 races on 10 different venues is realistic for 2020, but the bosses need to be better at planning in case of unexpected events, such as further outbreak of COVID-19 to avoid mistakes done during the Australian GP in Melbourne.
In a recent interview with Motorsport.com he said: “Eight (grands prix) is enough (to qualify as a world championship) and I'm optimistic we'll get in more than eight. Formula 1 is looking at a schedule of 16 to 18, kind of 15 circuits, 18 races. I'm a little bit more pessimistic than that, I would place my bet on 14-15 races at 10 circuits. I think we will do a couple races in Austria, a couple races at Silverstone. If we start running into issues with travelling, then I think you could see doubling up some other races. I don't think that's the intention, but I'm going to assume that we're going to hit a glitch, somewhere along the way.”
He added: “Even though Austria is ready and maybe Silverstone is ready behind closed doors, we don't know if the second wave will come. If we want to go to Asia, or America; I think it's going to be when we get on planes and have to fly overseas where I think the risk will start to potentially get greater. There's a conversation about more races in Europe. The schedule was only ever 16 races for a long time. So, to me, 14-15 races, is going to be a very complete championship.”
What makes the Red Bull Ring a perfect host for the beginning for the F1 2020 season is its location. Next to the circuit theres an Air Force base where charter planes can land, and the population in the nearby surroundings of the track is very low, which could minimise risks of catching and spreading the virus. Additionally, the paddock in Austria itself allows for spacing the teams as far from each other as possible (Ross Brawn has recently said that there will be no motorhomes, at least in the first rounds). Recently, Austria has been lifting many of lockdown measures, with opening the stores last week.
During the interview, Brown looked back at the situation in Australia. With one of the McLaren members testing positive for COVID-19, McLaren decided to withdraw from the race, that eventually triggered the cancellation of the Australian GP. Unfortunately though, the crazy circumstances leading to that decisions could have been avoided.
As Brown said: “People are scared and people are looking for leadership. They want to know, ‘What should I be doing?’ I think our team's done a really good job with that. So when we decided to withdraw from Australia, we'd made that decision coming into the weekend, so it wasn't a scenario [that we weren't prepared for]. Planning, trying to anticipate: if something happens, what are you going to do? Not have something happen, then ‘What should we do?’
He added: “I think if you look at how Australia, the cancellation of the race, went down. Overall, it seemed like the key stakeholders weren’t very aligned around the plan going into it, it was kind of ‘Oh McLaren's withdrawn, what do we do?’ Where maybe the teams and everyone should have been more prepared for if a team withdraws, what do we do, and go into motion instead. The teams spent Thursday night until three o'clock in the morning being divided on what they should do. That's what happens if you come into something not well prepared with all the key stakeholders around you.”
The upcoming season of 2020 will most likely run without fans on site. Not only has Austria confirmed that if race would happen, it would do so behind closed doors, but also Silverstone and recently Hungary have been added to the list. There is still many unknowns within the season that need to be addressed. For example, the ban for mass events in Belgium and The Netherlands till September, which poses a threat to the Belgian GP as well as basically implies no Dutch GP this year (The original date was planned for the weekend of 1st till 3rd May, which has been postponed with the “possibility” of taking place during August, which is now again impossible).
Despite all of those challenges, Brown remains positive for the future: “As long as we all handle it (the crisis) well and lean into the problem and not run from the problem, then I think there's opportunity. I think it's danger if we put our head in the sand, if we just kind of assume everything will sort itself out. That's dangerous.”