Formula 1 under quarantine

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World Health Organisation officially recognised the COVID-19 as a pandemic on March 11. It’s a worldwide disease. And the response is also global. Flights between countries are canceled around the world, borders are closed, and any mass events are canceled. The sport of Formula 1 was also a victim of the COVID-19 and went under quarantine. Let’s analyse the situation from the beginning.

Inception

At the time when the virus was only beginning to develop in China, Formula 1 was on a winter break and was gradually preparing for pre-season tests in Barcelona. FIA was monitoring the situation, but it was already becoming clear that the Chinese GPs of various racing series were under threat. Formula E was the first to announce the cancellation. Formula 1 also made a statement about the postponement of the race in Shanghai for an indefinite period a bit later. This was done after the Shanghai authorities announced a ban on organising public events in the city until the end of the coronavirus outbreak. The situation in the world was gradually changing in the middle of February, but it didn’t affect the pre-season tests in Barcelona.

The Australian Grand Prix

The situation had changed even more by the beginning of the season. There was panic, which in turn led to rumours. But the management of Formula 1 was positive. Chase Carey believed that all the first three GPs of the championship will be completed on time. And Greg Hunt, who’s the Minister for Health in Australia, urged residents not to panic and come to the Grand Prix. Helmut Marko also argued that the situation around the coronavirus is artificially inflated and it’s not necessary to support the alarmism of politicians.

The teams haven’t even arrived in Australia yet when the Italian Government declared a strict quarantine. The red zone includes the bases of Ferrari and AlphaTauri, as well as Pirelli. According to the government’s decision, people from “red zones” can’t leave without special permission. But the team members flew to Melbourne.

Money doesn’t solve everything. If it was just about money, we wouldn’t have made this decision.

The Grand Prix started as usual, without incident. The drivers arrived at the Paddock, where they willingly were taking pictures with guests and fans. Communication with journalists was not at all intimate because the parties were separated by a tape. The autograph session for fans was cancelled.

But on Thursday’s evening McLaren announced its refusal to participate in the Australian Grand Prix, as one of the employees tested positive for COVID-19. There was also news about several employees of the Haas team, but their tests were negative. Even before the start of the race weekend, Daniel Ricciardo made a statement that if any of the teams won’t be able to participate in the race, it doesn’t make sense to hold the Grand Prix.

The final answer was given on Friday just an hour before the first free practice session. By that time, many journalists were already in the media centre waiting for the results, the fans were standing near the entrance to the park and also waiting.

Ferrari, Renault, and Alfa Romeo were the first to say they wouldn’t participate. There was also news that Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen had already left Melbourne. Williams and Haas abstained. Mercedes was offered to hold the GP without spectators, but Toto Wolff changed his decision. Red Bull, AlphaTauri, and Racing Point were in favour of holding the race.

The Grand Prix was eventually cancelled. Chase Carey said to the reporters: “Money doesn’t solve everything. If it was just about money, we wouldn’t have made this decision. When we were going to Melbourne there were no problems with major events. At that moment the world has a completely different situation, but it changed every day. We followed the developments hour by hour, making appropriate decisions. The situation is unprecedented. I have never seen events unfold so large and unpredictable in my life. We made the decision in the interests of our sport.”

The new racing calendar

Bahrain announced that the GP would be held without spectators before the first stage of the season. But due to the current situation, the race has been postponed indefinitely. Chase Carey was in Vietnam just in time for the Australian Grand Prix and was flying to Melbourne directly from Hanoi. The Vietnam Grand Prix was also postponed indefinitely.

After that, there was news in the press that the championship will start in the Netherlands. Or even resume only in June in Baku. But there was more positive mood about Monaco. However, Monaco has cancelled the Grand Prix. This is the first time in the country’s history for 66 years. The Dutch and Spanish Grands Prix have been postponed.

Formula 1 is actively discussing changing the racing calendar now. Ross Brawn believes that the number of Grands Prix can be reduced to 17-18 this season. It’s planned that the summer break will take place in April. Then, according to the rules, teams will be required to stop working and close their bases for a mandatory two-week break. What will the racing calendar look like? In an optimistic scenario, the season will start with the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. After it, everything will remain unchanged. Before the Belgian Grand Prix, the Dutch Grand Prix may be held, since these countries are located close to each other. Bahrain may pass before the final weekend in Abu Dhabi, also because of the location of the countries. Thus, the season will end in December, not at the end of November. But this is not yet official data, only assumptions.

It’s possible that the new technical regulations, which were supposed to come into force in 2021, will be moved to 2022.

What can Formula 1 fans do right now?

Obviously, it’s worth repeating that staying at home and taking care of your health is paramount. Many countries have closed their borders, and teams have closed their bases, as well as race tracks. Employees of various companies around the world work remotely from home. But drivers are not discouraged, for example, Lando Norris took part in a race in virtual space, which was called Not the Australian Grand Prix. It was organised by the British company Veloce Esports. The competition was broadcast on YouTube, as well as on the Twitch TV streaming platform.

It’s possible that the new technical regulations, which were supposed to come into force in 2021, will be moved to 2022.

Max Verstappen participated in the All-Star Esports Battle. His rivals were Simon Pagenaud is the Indy 500 winner, Juan-Pablo Montoya, and Rubens Barrichello with their sons, Formula E drivers Max Gunter, Antonio Felix da Costa, and Neel Jani.

Liberty Media also decided to launch F1 Esports Virtual Grand Prix. Races will be held on the same dates as the cancelled ones. It will be just entertainment, without any report or points.

Outcomes

Of course, the situation in the world and the cancellation of a number of races will have an effect on the economy of Formula 1. According to preliminary data, the damage from the cancellation of the Chinese Grand Prix might be around $43 million. Don’t forget about the refund of the cost of tickets and TV broadcasts. The F1 TV service will also refund money to subscribers.

The amount of financial losses can be more accurately estimated in a year, when the financial statements will be published, but the figures are indeed serious.

A little bit of history

This case of cancellation of Formula 1 stages is actually not the first in history. There used to be a lot of them! Let’s remember a few of them over the 70 years of the championship’s existence.

In 1955, during the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Pierre Levegh crashed into two drivers at high speed. The car of Levegh flew into the air and crashed into the stands. The driver was thrown out of the cockpit and died on the spot from a head blow, and the wreckage of his car buried under another 83 people. In Formula 1, some countries reacted quickly: France and Germany cancelled their Grand Prix. Then Switzerland and Spain did it as well. This event led to the fact that in Switzerland motorsport was recognised as dangerous at the state level and holding any races in the country was prohibited. Races were not held there until 1975!

Before the Belgian Grand Prix 1985, the Spa circuit changed the asphalt. The race organisers were very proud of the new surface, which was able to maintain a high level of grip even in heavy rain. However, at the beginning of the weekend, it turned out that the asphalt began to crumble, and all attempts to fix the holes led to a deterioration of the coating. As a result, the stage was considered dangerous and on Saturday evening the race was announced to be cancelled. The Grand Prix took place in the middle of September, although it was supposed to be held in May.

In 2011, Bahrain was affected by the protests of The Arab Spring. The stage didn’t take place. And it wasn’t possible to hold the Grand Prix on other dates.

The US Grand Prix of 2005 was held at the Indianapolis track. The cancellation rumours started from the accident of Ralf Schumacher. The cause was an explosion of the left rear Michelin tire. FIA and Michelin conducted an investigation that found that the Michelin tires for this race had a fault. Only Ferrari, Jordan, and Minardi drivers started the race – they had Bridgestone tires. The other 14 cars equipped with Michelin tires didn’t start the Grand Prix for safety reasons. The race was held without any fighting or overtaking, and Michelin paid compensation to fans who bought tickets for the ruined race.




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