In the opening race weekend of the 2020 F1 season, the Australian Grand Prix was called off on the morning of Free Practice 1 which resulted in customers at the turnstiles being turned away. The images circulated of disgruntled fans were a public relations disaster for Formula 1 and F1 boss Chase Carey clearly wants no repeat of such a scenario. In Australia, the race cancellation was a result of the knock-on effect of McLaren withdrawing their team after one of their employees tested positive for COVID-19. Speaking to formula1.com Carey has now made it clear that another positive test in the paddock will not prevent the race going ahead. So, is this because ‘cash is king’ as Lewis Hamilton said or is Formula 1 much better prepared than it was three months ago?
The people associated with Liberty Media are clearly desperate to get racing resuming as soon as possible following the return of action in the Bundesliga (the German Football League); a date being set for Premiership football’s return and closed events in America’s Nascar stock car series already taking place. Therefore, it was little surprise to see an 8 race F1 calendar announced yesterday – with more races to follow. However, Formula 1 is a global sport in every sense of the word and as such given the vast number of people required to facilitate it, clear plans were required.
One such plan, as reported on Motorlat.com yesterday, is the implementation of the ‘5 Steps to Safe Racing’.
Of course, with such a global pandemic there is every chance of a positive COVID-19 case still emerging but F1 boss Chase Carey’s recent comments to the flagship website of F1 may surprise people:
“An individual having been found with a positive infection will not lead to a cancellation of a race…We encourage teams to have procedures in place so if an individual has to be put in quarantine, we have the ability to quarantine them at a hotel and to replace that individual.”
The quarantine element is understandable, but it remains to be seen how such an individual would be ‘replaced’ due to the fact personnel will already be at a minimal level – as outlined by F1:
“There will be a significant reduction in the personnel travelling to events. Not only by teams but also by the FIA, suppliers and F1 itself.”
Of course, such a speculation is a ‘what if…?’ scenario and Chase Carey is all too aware that on the spot decisions would need to be made:
“Some things we’d have to talk through and work through. The array of ‘what ifs’ are too wide to play out every one of them, but a team not being able to race wouldn’t cancel the race. I don’t think I could sit here and lay out the consequences. But we will have a procedure in place that finding infection will not lead to a cancellation. If a driver has an infection, [teams have] reserve drivers available.
This final remark and the unthinkable scenario of a reserve driver being called on was probably a contributing factor to a recent tweet from 1996 F1 World Driver’s Champion Damon Hill who tweeted:
“COVID could play a part in deciding 2020 title.” Then later followed this up in response to a follower who claimed if Lewis Hamilton won the 2020 F1 season, his legacy would be intertwined with what COVID-19 did, to which Hill replied “Yup. It’s a real shame. I’m not sure it should count. But same for everyone. Maybe more exciting because of the greater value to each race?”
Damon Hill clearly has his doubts over the season and Bernie Ecclestone has already said the 2020 F1 season should have been called off. Above all, the biggest aspect of COVID-19 which we shall mourn is the loss of life and nothing is more important than remembering all who have been lost. With so many jobs at stake and the damage the COVID-19 epidemic has caused to the hospitality industry and Formula 1 teams already, the sport, for many people, is in dire need of help and that is why we will soon be back on track as Chase Carey’s exclusive remarks to formula1.com showed:
“We wouldn’t be going forward if we were not highly confident we have necessary procedures and expertise and capabilities to provide a safe environment and manage whatever issues arrive…Much of the world is moving forward and I think it is important to realise that the shutdown does have both health, societal and economic consequences which are real long term. We need to intelligently manage the risks of this disease and do everything possible to eliminate it and provide safety for people but not do it in a way that we don’t recognise that there are real consequences to the shutdown and I think there is a real desire, if you can do it in the right way to start to move forward.”
Moving forward is certainly what society the world over is appearing to be doing and time will tell if it is the right decision, but a decision had to be made, nonetheless. We can only hope that the teams, race marshals and all those in attendance at the track stay healthy and well.
For now at least, no fans will be in attendance and millions of race fans will enjoy the on track battles whilst being sat in front of a television. In time, Chase Carey has also indicated that would soon change. We already know that the Brazilian GP organisers have said fans will be in attendance.
“We’d like to have fans at the events…But we’re not going to have fans at our first events so it’s certainly not going back to life as we know it. I think it is about taking careful thoughtful steps, with appropriate protection and procedures around it to begin to move forward in the world we know.”
As hashtags have been trending on social media that #f1isback, there are still many unknowns, uncertainties and unsure elements. However, as the saying goes, if you fail to prepare, then prepare to fail. F1 has prepared considerably and has done all they can to ensure the safety and well-being of all and if racing is to resume then that is all anyone can hope for.
Whether the 2020 F1 season is forever labelled with an asterisk indicating *COVID-19 or not, the fact remains that all drivers on track put themselves in harm’s way to entertain us. F1 seems confident that the risk to a driver will end when they are out of the cockpit and we can only hope that they are right.