One of the bigger differences they faced on Thursday related to the restrictions in the number of people allowed to take each car to the FIA garage for self-scrutineering, as the maximum was reduced from ten to five. That meant a race against time to get the cars checked in the permitted ten minutes before having to clean the area and return to the perceived safety of their own garages.
But that aside, much of the same set-up work could take place, with the overnight curfew extended by an hour to match the 2019 regulations in order to take a little bit of pressure off the teams.
As media, we had to watch it all from a significant distance in the media centre opposite the pit lane, but it offers a stunning view over the whole circuit. And after track walks for the engineers, and building and scrutineering the cars for the mechanics, it’s a day that ended with the reassuringly familiar sound of pit stop practice.
The eeriest part of the situation is the lack of fans, even on a Thursday. No buzz, no atmosphere, no noise around the circuit. A sign over the entrance reads ‘Welcome Race Fans’, but they’re sadly unwelcome at this stage, on-site at least.
But the beauty of it all is that off-site, it’s all going to look so much more normal than many other sports can hope for. The build-up might not be easy, but if you tune in for the sporting event, you’ll barely be able to tell a difference. As soon as the drivers leave on the formation lap, the noise of the cars will provide much of the atmosphere. Camera shots all too often appear to cut to fans when there is exciting action on track, but on this occasion they will be trained even more keenly on the racing. And there’s no social distancing needed behind the wheel…
A shorter and quieter grid will reduce the pre-race anticipation somewhat, and once results are decided in qualifying and the race, there will of course be clear differences, with no podium a significant change.
But as those lights go out, it will be racing just as we’ve always known it.