June 28, 2020 – In exactly one week, the 2020 Formula 1 season will start with the Austrian Grand Prix. The race on the Red Bull Ring takes place behind closed doors because of the corona virus, but what does that mean – apart from the fact that there is no public – exactly? GPUpdate.net answers some of the most frequently asked questions.
On Sunday 5 July at 3.10 pm the time has finally come. Then the red lights go out over the Spielberg straight for the first Formula 1 race of 2020. Actually, the championship should have started on March 15 in Australia, but a corona crash in the paddock led to the race in Melbourne at the last moment was canceled. The nine races that had to be held after that also caused a streak, including the first Dutch Grand Prix since 1985 at Circuit Zandvoort. However, the situation in Europe has recently improved to such an extent that the Grand Prix in Austria can ‘continue’ as usual and the 2020 season can be started.
With a hefty package of precautions – a 90-page document – the Austrian government was persuaded to allow the arrival of Formula 1, finalizing the seasonal overture to Spielberg. And if you’re there, you might as well stay a week longer for a second race, the bosses of the sport reasoned, and so a week after the Austrian GP on the same circuit the Styrian Grand Prix will be, such as the state in which the circuit is located. However, everything has to be ‘behind closed doors’, so without an audience, and according to very strict corona protocols. GPUpdate.net highlights the main differences from a normal F1 weekend through a list of questions.
How does F1 keep everyone corona free?
First, all team members must submit a negative COVID-19 test before embarking on their journey to the track. Once on site, they are tested for corona every five days as long as they are on Formula 1. F1 personnel must strictly adhere to the corona measures at and around the event. For that reason everyone must first sign the official FIA Code of Conduct, in which all rules of conduct are described.
In the unlikely event that someone is tested positive at an event, this person will immediately be separated from the rest. Formula 1 uses a special track & trace app to determine who the infected person has been in contact with.
In order to minimize the risk of contamination, the entire Formula 1 remains in a ‘bubble’ in one place during its stay, with as little contact as possible with the local population. Traveling is also done with as little contact as possible with the outside world. For example, it flies with charter flights and the transport from the airport to the hotel and from the hotel to the circuit is arranged in advance. Each team also forms its own ‘bubble’, so that employees from different teams do not come into contact with each other. And within the teams there are also several ‘bubbles’, to ensure that people only have contact with those who need it. When contact is unavoidable, social distancing should be done or protective equipment worn.
How many personnel can an F1 team take to a race behind closed doors?
A maximum of eighty employees can take a team to what Formula 1 calls a ‘closed-door event’. Preferably even less. The teams were asked to send only the most necessary personnel to the matches in order to minimize the risk. For the time being, the team members who run the hospitality units are not necessary anyway. The motorhomes that the teams use in the European races must stay at home, just like the VIP guests. The teams are housed during the races in facilities that are already present on the circuit.
How do the teams work behind closed doors during a race weekend?
Because some work on the car takes longer due to the corona protocols, the working hours are
extended on the track. The teams can now work an hour longer on Thursday and Friday evenings. Whether the extension of one hour is sufficient in all cases is, however, very questionable. Andrew Green, Racing Point’s technical director, calculated that an engine change takes twice as long as everyone adheres to the corona rules. So having a reliable car and motorcycle is more important this year than ever before.
Are there media present at a race behind closed doors?
Yes, but a very limited number. The TV stations have been able to give their preferences to Formula One Management (FOM) when it comes to the races they want to attend, if they feel like sending their people on the road. It is known that the crew of Ziggo Sport is certainly not in the first two races in Austria. “Because we were not guaranteed that we could speak to the drivers,” explains pit reporter Jack Plooij GPUpdate.net to. “And that is one of the reasons why we go there: to make stories with the drivers. We may be back in Hungary, Barcelona or Spa.” Also, almost no written press goes to the races. The journalists who are on site are not admitted to the paddock and the pits. The media sessions are said to take place via Zoom.
Is there a drivers parade at a race behind closed doors?
No. Since there are no fans on the track, there is no need for a drivers parade. Moreover, in these times of corona, it is not very useful to bring twenty drivers together on the back of a truck, as happens with most driver parades. The drivers’ parade has also recently become a moment in which the Formula 1 drivers are briefly interviewed about their chances in the race, for the fans along the track and the TV stations that are already live with their preview. The drivers will probably be interviewed one by one in front of their garage on Sunday morning to replace this.
How do the F1 teams operate on the grid in a race behind closed doors?
Formula 1 has tried to adjust the grid procedure so that everyone can continue to do social distancing. Normally, the grid is of course dotted with people all moving close together. Media will soon not be welcome on the grid anyway and teams will only be allowed to send 40 people to the starting grid in the adjusted situation. Also, the time spent by the teams on the grid will be shortened by ten minutes by closing the pit lane 20 minutes before the start instead of 30 minutes.
Furthermore, the cars must now have their tires mounted 5 minutes before the start instead of 3 minutes before the start and the teams must also start clearing the grid at that time. For example, the tire carts must then be pushed back to the pits. When the 3 minute signal sounds, no more than 16 people per team should be on the grid. The last team members must have disappeared from the grid before the 15 second signal.
Should it appear that the modified grid procedure still entails too much risk, the FIA has the option to abolish the entire grid procedure. In an FIA document, an alternative is mentioned to have all Formula 1 cars start the formation lap directly from the pits, before they take place on the grid before the start of the Grand Prix.
How does the race management operate behind closed doors during a race?
The stewards are usually housed in a small office, but now take place in an area large enough to accommodate all tables and chairs far enough apart. And if a rider has to come to the race management after a session, everyone will wear face masks. The FIA is further prepared for a situation where a flight attendant may not be able to travel to an F1 race. If necessary, a flight attendant can work from home. The driver briefing will be held outside or via Zoom, should there not be space on the track large enough to allow everyone to be sufficiently distant from each other.
What does the podium ceremony look like in a race behind closed doors?
Because Formula 1 wants to strictly observe the social distancing rules, the traditional podium ceremony will be canceled. The podium is simply too small for three drivers, a delegate from the winning team, officials to steer the ceremony and dignitaries to hand out the goblets. The plan now is to hand out the cups on the straight when the drivers who have finished in the top three are back from their lap. Ross Brawn, the sporting director of Formula 1, recently said about this: “An option would be to have the cars parked side by side on the track and then the drivers will stand in front of their car. We cannot hand over cups, but we have come up with something else. We have drawn up plans and procedures to present it properly on TV. “
VIDEO: This is what the corona measures in Formula 1 look like