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Formula 1 under the influence of Covid-19
The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic certainly influences almost all economical and social sectors for several months now. Especially those branches whose business models include either the mass gathering of spectators and visitors or those that make their money in tourism were hit hard by the virus.
Formula 1 ticks both boxes. Since 70 years, Formula 1 which is also considered to be the pinnacle of motorsport is hosted on many race tracks all over the world. Besides races in several countries, thousands of spectators were also always part since F1 launched in 1950. The huge number of spectators buying tickets were an essential part of F1’s income besides TV- and sponsoring revenues. Once Covid-19 started to spread and mass gatherings were banned almost all over the planet it became obvious that F1 season 2020 would become a huge challenge for all stakeholders. For some time even it seemed that no 2020 season could take place since more and more race tracks became too unsafe to race. It became more and more clear that if races were to take place these had to be so called “ghost races” excluding the public. This option then meant huge losses for racetrack operators as well as F1 itself. Since F1 is widely known for its notoriously high operating costs this meant no good for the sport.
In spring 2020 F1’s umbrella association FIA and F1 owner Liberty Media eventually decided on the start of 2020 season in June, with no spectators allowed at race tracks for at least the first half of the season and a heavily modified schedule containing unusually many double header race weekends. Decision was made focusing on the overall health situation.
Besides the already mentioned ghost races FIA came up with a number of measures in order to mitigate the infection risk pre, during and post races. These guidelines were all stated in a 81 page FIA document. Among these measures were strategic as well as operational measures to keep racing as safe as possible. The FIA paper provides guidelines such as:
- FIA strongly suggests the implementation of a Covid-19 Response Coordinator or even a whole response team at each racing event that is purely focused on monitoring and analyzing feasibility of a race event as well as providing guidance along the process.
- FIA suggests open communication at all time in case of occurrence of infection with Covid-19 among involved parties and keeping those parties as small as possible.
- FIA recommends a group separation strategy meaning, that if possible, all involved parties are divided into functional subgroups. Direct contact shall only take place within individuals of each subgroups.
But how does F1 realise these measures in the real world?
Apart from ghost races, several of those measures can be spotted during race weekends such as the ever present social distancing measures between the stakeholders of the different sub groups. Take the press conferences for example. Usually in one room, press conferences are now held via video calls between drivers and journalists. Only a very small fraction of journalists is present at the racetrack. During interviews journalists and drivers stand several meters apart and always wear face masks. Even robots were used at the Austrian GP’s award ceremony in order to avoid direct contact.
Hospitality facilities such as the F1 Paddock Club, which are normally used by team guests, staff and VIPs during the races and whose security has been our job in Formula 1 for many years, are closed as well.
Due to its immense amount of travels during the season, the accommodation of all involved parties became especially challenging even though teams are only allowed to attend races with a maximum of 80 people per team including drivers. Still, drivers, mechanics, organizers and PR staff need to be accommodated in a safe manner. Here, group separation strategy can be seen at all teams. All different subgroups are accommodated in different hotels, one hotel per subgroup in order to avoid infections in the whole team but rather only in one subgroup in case of infections. Travel logistics and equipment are also planned and tested excessively. Charter jets and private airports are used to mitigate the team’s contact to the “outer world”. Before a race even takes place, FIA and F1 officials analyze the health situation in the respective country or region around the racetrack additionally.
The Covid-19-related retirement of Sergio Perez at the Silverstone races and some McLaren mechanics who tested positive for Covid-19 at the beginning of the season have shown that even the greatest precautions are not always 100% effective. Nevertheless, the FIA measures and not least the personal commitment of the people involved contribute to the fact that the 2020 Formula One season can take place despite all the circumstances.
Taking a look into 2021 season we hope that Formula 1 opens its doors for spectators and team guests again so we can take on our work for the F1 Paddock Club again.
Picture sourced: Mikhail Kolesnikov/Shutterstock.com