It has been a long seven months since the most recent Formula 1 race in Abu Dhabi but finally – all being well – the delayed 2020 campaign will get underway shortly. There has been a lot of negativity in the world but the pandemic has, at least, had positive developments in the world of Formula 1…
To its detractors Formula 1 is regarded as a “sport” in which cars just go around in circles at astronomical cost and at a detriment to the environment. But when the coronavirus pandemic struck Formula 1 did what it does best: it put its brains together to find solutions. Mercedes’ HPP department repurposed its Brixworth facility to produce 10,000 breathing aids that it had reverse-engineered in just a few days, in conjunction with University College London. Red Bull and Renault, previously the fiercest of opponents, collaborated on the BlueSky ventilator device, going from design to production in just three weeks, before evolving understanding of the virus meant the project was mothballed. McLaren Group was involved in the design and production of the Penlon Prima ES02 ventilator and also assisted with the development of Personal Protective Equipment in association with the University of Southampton. Each UK-based F1 team played their part while in Italy Ferrari produced respirator valves and fittings for protective masks, before working with the Italian Institute of Technology to co-design and produce a pulmonary ventilator dubbed the FI5. It was an astonishing effort.
A revision of the budget cap
After years of missed chances, negotiations and infighting Formula 1 finally agreed on a budget cap of $175m for 2021 last October. But when the coronavirus pandemic struck there was a swift acceptance that further cost reductions were vital. The current cars will be kept for 2021, delaying the introduction of the new regulations, while eventually a new figure of $145m as a cap was reached, reducing by $5m in both 2022 and 2023. Not only will it make Formula 1 a more level playing field in the medium-term but it means the current big-spenders will be able to repurpose some staff elsewhere, potentially in other motorsport projects. The budget cap will also make the sport more enticing to interested parties now that a spending limit of $135m – outside of marketing, engine and some salary costs – will be in force come 2023. That still equates to needing to find $2.5m each week to run a Formula 1 team but it is a step in the right direction.
Personalities have shone through
The advent of social media in recent years has allowed the relationship between drivers and fans to blossom in a way never previously possible. But the pandemic has facilitated this even further. When the lockdown was introduced several drivers took to the virtual world and began streaming their efforts. This was most prominent in the interactions and relationships between the likes of Charles Leclerc, Lando Norris, Alexander Albon and George Russell, who have come through the motorsport ladder together and are likely to be Formula 1’s stars for the next decade. They livestreamed their escapades and went as far as trying out virtual truck driving and lawnmower racing. There were jokes, banter and a wealth of new memes created. And there was the extremely skilled driver who stood atop the podium at Monza last year plonked in his gaming chair dressed as a banana. Oh, and: GEORGE!!!
It may seem daft to suggest that the pandemic could mean we get to watch the current drivers for longer seeing as there have been 10 grands prix postponed or cancelled. But the pandemic has given drivers the opportunity to relax, completely switch off, and spend time in one location. World Champion Lewis Hamilton, 35, admitted “there have been times that I thought a rest would be good for body and mind. It’s never a good thing to step away for a year but we have been handed a part-sabbatical, which I am enjoying. It’s almost a blessing on one side because it gives you even more appreciation for the things you love and do.” Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo, who spent several months in his native western Australia, concurred. “We haven’t been jumping time zones, we haven’t been locked in pressurised cabins for three days per week up in the air,” he told the BBC. “I think the benefit is going to be really nice, and because it’s so unique, I think it was really important to maximise this. Who knows, it might give me a bit more longevity in my career.”
Standing up for change
The world is changing. The protests that were sparked last month prompted Hamilton to speak out, and other drivers followed suit in acknowledging that change needs to happen. But words are easy, actions are harder. Hamilton, who attended a protest in London, has since announced that he will collaborate with the Royal Academy of Engineering to launch The Hamilton Commission, aimed at “exploring how motorsport can be used as a vehicle to engage more young people from black backgrounds with Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects and, ultimately, employ them on our teams or in other engineering sectors.” Formula 1 itself has also enacted schemes. The #WeRaceAsOne initiative will have a widespread presence throughout the season, a Task Force will be set up to explore how the championship can improve diversity, while a foundation to “finance primarily, but not exclusively, internships and apprenticeships within Formula 1 for under-represented groups” will be formed, with the first $1m of funding donated by CEO Chase Carey. This isn’t a magic fix, or an attempt to be squeaky clean, but an acknowledgment of striving for a better future.
A feast of racing
Good things come to those who wait – and the wait has been very long. It has been over 200 days since lights out for Formula 1 and 2 – while Formula 3 has been on a break since last September. March, April, May and June have gone by with none of the usual stakes in the ground that mark the passing of the seasons. But the Austrian Grand Prix will trigger a breathless sequence of races, with eight events planned in just a 10-week period, and more rounds are set to be confirmed shortly. During that spell there will be 16 Formula 2 and 16 Formula 3 races as the junior categories get their seasons up and running at the same time as well. The ever-expanding nature of Formula 1’s calendar in recent years has led to debates over quantity versus quality but no-one can argue with finally getting in a decent run of races.
Barring unforeseen circumstances (and that comes with a very big asterisk in 2020) Formula 1 is going to be racing at Mugello this year. There is also a strong possibility that Portugal’s Portimao will be added on an October date while Imola is an outsider to return after a 14-year absence. The new and unknown always provokes greater intrigue and while Formula 1 should have been heading to Hanoi and Zandvoort this year very few people would object to the inclusion of Mugello and Portimao, even as a one-off due to the exceptional situation. Bahrain’s ‘Outer Layout’ might also get a call-up. The Ferrari-owned Mugello circuit has been Italy’s MotoGP home but has never held a Formula 1 race, though did welcome testing in 2012. The high-speed circuit would surely provide a stunning display of Formula 1’s ferociously fast machines and the backdrop of late summer in Tuscany would make for fantastic visual imagery.