Sebastian Vettel heads to Monza this weekend tackling the Italian Grand Prix as a Ferrari driver for the final time. Obviously, Vettel still has many races of the season to come racing for the Prancing Horse, but this will be a special moment, nonetheless. This occasion is set to be met by empty grandstands but today we have learnt that there will be '250 very special people' in attendance this weekend after all. Very special people whom the world, and not just the world of F1, owe so much.
COVID-19 has been treated in the same way as countries would combat wars. As such, with any conflict, there are always those on the frontline. In the case of COVID-19 the frontline has been made up of doctors and nurses tirelessly working away and no doubt battling sleep deprivation in the quest to overcome this global pandemic.
To date, COVID-19 has taken an estimated 35,000 lives from Italy alone. When it was announced that Formula One would be racing in Italy in 2020 it gave the country reason for hope and optimism seeing how in 2020 - even though Italy had already endured so much - a sense of normality was finally on the horizon.
Although the race this weekend is closed to fans - as all Grand Prix in 2020 have been so far - Scuderia Ferrari made a very special announcement today in its pre-race preview:
“Like all the other races run so far this year, the Italian Grand Prix will be held behind closed doors and therefore there will be no traditional track invasion by the fans at the end of the race.”
“However, there will be 250 very special people in the grandstands, socially distanced of course: doctors and nurses will be guests at the track, as a symbolic honour for their courage, sense of duty and altruism as front line workers in the fight against COVID-19.”
These '250 very special people’ will be guests of the Automobile Club d’Italia, which is the promoter of the Italian Grand Prix and act as another symbol of this changing time.
F1 in 2020 has been filled with symbolism ranging from the rainbow logo for ‘We Race as One’ to the moments of silence for the battle to ‘End Racism’. Now, this symbolic honour is an opportunity to give back in some way to a section of people who were able to get society and F1 back on track due to their efforts in hospitals up and down the land.
The aspiration for fans to be in attendance does not stop there.
For the Tuscan Grand Prix, which shall be momentously held at Mugello the following week, there are plans in place for members of the public to be in attendance and not just 250 but almost 3000. These paying members of the public will be a further symbol to show that society and day to day life is returning to what it once was - before this global pandemic.
Time will tell as to what performance the fans in attendance will witness from the Scuderia Ferrari team which they adore so much seeing how the SF1000 continues to be besieged with problems and its frailty appears to become more exposed on a weekly basis. However, there will always be something special for a Ferrari driver to race at Monza and Charles Leclerc shared with the press, ahead of another predictably challenging weekend, this very point.
“All the same, we are not lacking motivation for this round,” Leclerc said. “We will all pull together to bring home the best possible result.” Different goals this time around for the man who brought Scuderia Ferrari their first Italian Grand Prix victory in nine years due to his 2019 triumph.
As for the soon to be departing (from Ferrari at least) 4-time World Champion, Sebastian Vettel, his words may bring optimism for the Tifosi made up of the ‘250 very special people’ to be in attendance:
“We come to Monza knowing it’s going to be tough to be a frontrunner this weekend. The last race here was anything but straightforward for me and we are well aware that will also be the case this time.
“We have a specific aero package that we hope will make the SF1000 more competitive. Nevertheless, our aim this weekend is the same as always: to make the most of our package and bring home as many points as possible.”
No doubt the doctors and nurses witnessing the on-track battles will make the most of the event in the same way that all race fans must make the most of all frontline workers as they continue to battle COVID-19.
The battle is not yet won and loss of life still takes place globally but we do appear to have turned a corner and so for the global sport which got up and running so quickly to now pay tribute to the frontline workers seems very fitting indeed. Such a mindset is already being seen in other countries with Silverstone announcing previously that tickets will be given to frontline workers in 2021 for the British Grand Prix.
In World War 2, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill famously said: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” This weekend, in Monza, when looking on at those 250 very special people, never have so few represented so many and we shall always be thankful.