Five months ago, Formula 1 arrived within two hours of the start of the season.
Coronavirus spread globally, and when a member of McLaren tested positive and the team withdrew from the Australian Grand Prix in mid-March, the event was canceled before the first exercise Friday morning.
It triggered a tumultuous period for the motorsport series.
“When we left Australia, of course, we went into a massive unknown, and neither of us knew where we wanted to go or what to do,” said Ross Brawn, CEO, motorsport, at Formula 1, in a interview.
“Fortunately, Formula 1 is the kind of industry that thrives on logistics, thrives on organizational challenges and thrives on complex issues, and so when we started putting our heads together, we started to see a way in which we could function.”
On July 5, racing resumed with the Austrian Grand Prix without fans at the Red Bull Ring. It had been more than seven months since the last race in 2019 in Abu Dhabi and the longest low season in Formula 1 history.
Formula 1 worked with the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile, the governing body of sport; the 10 teams; and other stakeholders, such as tire supplier Pirelli and the circuit programs, to discuss a way forward.
Along with Australia, nine more races in China, Bahrain, Vietnam, the Netherlands, Spain, Monaco, Azerbaijan, Canada and France were either canceled or postponed.
There is now a 13-race calendar that started with two in Austria and includes two in Silverstone in England, with the second Sunday and three in Italy on different tracks. More races are expected to be added and Formula 1 hopes to keep 18 over all.
“We knew that the protocols to be put in place would ensure that the people of the countries we planned to visit and the people in Formula 1 who participated were all kept safe and in the best conditions,” Brawn said.
“My ambition and everyone’s ambition in Formula 1 was to make the paddock one of the safest places in the world to be.”
Dr. Gérard Saillant, president of the FIA Medical Commission, worked with the World Health Organization to implement the protocols.
“The key principle was to create this biosphere within which we all operate,” Brawn added, “and within that we created individual bubbles. The cause of the bubble is, if there is a case, then I hope we can contain it within that bubble. ”
A bubble consists of one to 12 people who are not allowed to mix with others in another bubble. “We do not want them too big, because if we get an eruption, then the bigger the bubble, the bigger the problem,” Brawn added.
Mercedes, for example, has 24 bubbles of one to five people, divided according to the vehicles they travel in. So a crew of 12 mechanics is divided into three bubbles.
Each team is also limited to 80 employees per. Race. This figure was cut from approx. 200. Every person entering the paddock is tested every five days and must always wear a mask or face shield.
Formula 1 is working with a Luxembourg company, Eurofins Scientific, which analyzes the tests. There have been 17,504 tests from June 26 to July 30, the latest figures available. So far, there have been only three positive results.
For the first two, neither of them was with a team. But third person was Sérgio Perez, a driver for Racing Point. He was quarantined along with his personal assistant and physiotherapist, both of whom tested negative. Perez missed the British Grand Prix and is also not running in Sunday’s race after being positive again. He was replaced on the team with Nico Hülkenberg, who drove for Renault last year.
“We are happy and proud of what we have been able to do so far, but we are not going to be complacent,” Brawn said.
“We are aware that what we are dealing with is a very dynamic problem. After each race we have had an intense debrief with all the people involved, figuring out how to tie any loose ends or solve any problems, and so as we continue, we only get stronger and stronger on our way to meet this new challenge. ”
The questions included drivers Valtteri Bottas of Mercedes and Charles Leclerc of Ferrari, who returned to their home in Monaco between races in Austria in July. Formula 1 staff were asked by the sport and the FIA to remain in the country in their bubble.
Leclerc received a warning from the FIA because he had come out of his bubble; Bottas did not and was not warned.
Leclerc said he went home but was tested for the virus before returning.
“Yes, I went home for two days and then did two tests to be sure of the result,” he said, noting that the tests were negative.
Brawn said that “one or two drivers have not fully understood the importance of the protocols that have been put in place and that should continue even when they are off the circuit, so we have had to remind them of their responsibilities. ”
The pandemic has financially affected most Formula 1 teams, but McLaren and Williams are the only ones to have released figures.
McLaren lost $ 227 million in the first quarter of this year. On May 26, it announced it was laying off 1,200 of its 4,000 employees across its three divisions. About 75 of the job losses come from the Formula 1 team.
On June 29, McLaren received a $ 195 million loan from the National Bank of Bahrain, which Zak Brown, CEO of McLaren, said the company had a good financial position.
“The bad news is behind us,” he said. “We are financially sound and benefit from playing offenses when Covid hit.
“We ran towards the problems so we could quickly solve them and turn the page. We are now exactly where we want to be and we look forward to sitting on a better business model so we are in a good mood. ”
Three days after McLaren announced job losses, Williams revealed a $ 45.5 million loss in Formula 1 revenue in 2019.
Williams said it would consider a sale of the entire company or of a minority stake to help it through its crisis.
“We have received a number of very interesting potential investors and we are talking to them at the moment,” said Claire Williams, deputy team director, who would not say who the investors were.
“They are of high quality, which we are very happy about, and we continue to review that process. We said we expected the process to last anywhere between three to four months and we are still on that timeline. ”
On the track, Mercedes continues to lead. Lewis Hamilton, who tries to equal the record with seven titles won by Michael Schumacher, has a 30-point lead over Bottas, his teammate.
The first four races have all been held without fans. It continues the next four prands. For the events that follow, starting with the Gran Premio Della Toscana Ferrari 1000 in Italy, Formula 1 will decide depending on the situation of a country.
Brawn said he was pleased with the plans that had been put in place and what had been achieved in a short time.
“While one does not want this to have happened, it has in some ways been a great challenge to face, and that is the character of people in Formula 1; they love meeting challenges, ”he said.
“It’s not one we wanted, but we’ve met it and found solutions that in themselves have been rewarding.”