F1 kicks back into life with one-month countdown to 2020 season


With the start of the season confirmed and a packed championship on the cards, Formula 1 is buzzing once more. But how will the drivers deal with the extended break?

2019 Belgian Grand Prix start


In a sport where regulations are discussed years in advance, unanimous agreement is needed for many changes and stakeholders are often reluctant to take risks, it does feel pretty strange to be getting confirmation of the opening eight races Formula 1 will host this year just a month before they happen.

But that’s the hand that the Covid-19 pandemic has dealt, and it has led to an extremely busy time behind the scenes as F1 worked with promoters on a number of potential scenarios.

Initially, the safest bets seemed to be hosting the first two events in Austria and Silverstone, and fitting two races in at each venue. But the UK Government quarantine regulations – ones that would have seen anyone arriving in the UK forced to self-isolate for 14 days – looked like they would scupper Silverstone’s hopes.

“The cars are sitting there ready to go for FP1 in Australia”

So against the backdrop of a returning Bundesliga and an opening of borders in Europe, the idea of racing in Hungary next became a very plausible one. That meant more time was given to try and find a solution in the UK and made sense in terms of a logistics point of view, with Austria bordering Hungary.

It might seem simple, but usually such a pairing isn’t deemed an option because of the presence of fans. Races want to be as far from one another geographically as possible, in order to be the most efficient option for their local fans to attend.

Without that aspect to factor in, there was much greater flexibility in terms of dates, so the calendar could keep evolving. It’s why there were so many reports and rumours about certain races and venues, all while F1 itself could not announce anything. The calendar changed multiple times.

Racing Point in garage ahead of the cancelled 2020 australian grand prix

2020 cars remain ready to race – as they were in Australia


And even though the two races in Austria on July 5 and July 12 never wavered once targeted well over a month ago, teams are only now getting confirmation of when they will be racing again.

It coincides with the end of the FIA’s mandatory shutdown period, as some teams went back to work late last week and others were able to return to their factories from Monday. That gives them four full weeks until they will be traveling across to Austria, but in the eyes of Racing Point team principal Otmar Szafnauer that’s plenty of time.

“In Europe, we only need two or three weeks warning,” Szafnauer says. “Four weeks is plenty. You’ve got to remember the cars are sitting there ready to go for FP1 in Australia, so there’s not a lot of work to be done on the cars – strip them and put them back together – and then just the rest of it is putting them on the trucks and driving them to the venue that we’re going to.

“We were ready to go on Friday morning in Melbourne and we’ve done no running. Three or four weeks is all we need. I know people are saying we should go back to work six weeks before we race, but we don’t need that. A couple of weeks and we’ve got it.”

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Given the fact that meetings of the Sporting Working Group have regularly taken place to discuss how the restart will be made as safe as possible and worst-case scenarios, the teams will clearly have known Austria was going ahead long before today’s announcement, so they’re going to be ready. But what about the drivers?

Usually, drivers go nearly three months without driving a Formula 1 car – from the final race of one season at the end of November to the start of pre-season testing in late February. The last time anyone managed to get behind the wheel of one was on 28 February, meaning we have now just passed the same three-month mark.

In terms of race craft, previous seasons have seen racing end in Abu Dhabi in late November and not resume until Melbourne on the third weekend in March, closer to the four-month gap that drivers now face having not been behind the wheel. But it will be seven months since they raced F1 cars.

And it won’t be a major issue.

Drivers will spend plenty of time in simulators, and although Friday practice in Austria will need to factor in more time for them to get comfortable with their 2020 cars again, we’re talking small percentages that might be missing. From a fan perspective, it’s great, because the drivers that adapt and reacclimatise the quickest will be able to gain an advantage, but they are all faced with the same challenge.

Kimi Raikkonen lowers himself into his Alfa Romeo in 2019

Drivers shouldn’t take long to get back into the groove


Potential rustiness has been suggested by a few drivers, but the lack of errors in NASCAR’s first race back – one that took place without practice or qualifying – shows how quickly elite drivers react to the situation. It’s the sort of trait that has seen them rise to the top and reach F1 in the first place.

Aside from confidence in the car, it will be comfort out of it that might be hurt as their bodies get used to the forces they are subjected to once again. But they are not the long days that pre-season testing demands, and with three consecutive race weekends they will soon be back in the swing of things. And, it’s still the same for everyone. They know what’s coming now.

While the drivers and teams know what’s coming in terms of when races will be held, there is still much to be decided about how F1 goes racing. Final numbers in attendance are unconfirmed, with media access likely to be restricted to a few agencies with no paddock access. But as Chase Carey keeps stating, this is a very fluid situation and host countries still have inconsistent Covid-19 guidelines.

In somewhere like Austria, the outlook is much brighter and the situation more advanced than in the UK, to the extent that allowing a small number of fans to attend was discussed. The opening eight are all due to be held behind closed doors, but comparing where we are now to six weeks ago, there’s every chance limited capacity events could be possible in certain countries by late August.

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That’s another reason why only the European races have been confirmed at this stage. There is enough confidence to finalise races over the coming three months, but there is less certainty how the international picture will look beyond that. In many places F1 wants to race it’s looking positive, but focus needs to be on the more immediate challenges of the restart rather than a potential 13th round in Vietnam.

The significance of confirming eight races also leaves F1 on the brink of a world championship. A minimum of eight races across three different continents is usually required for that status – although the FIA has the ability to designate it as it so wishes in exceptional circumstances – and with confidence eight will be achieved by the first weekend of September, it’s hard to see how another two flyaways will not take place.

The idea of reverse grid qualifying races in Austria and Silverstone still needs approving or more likely dismissing in the coming days, but aside from that the key stakeholders now have clarity about how the return to racing will look.

Teams are back at work and they have races to plan for. After an extremely challenging time that has seen the sport need to take major steps to try and survive, this week the 2020 season is really kicking back into life.

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