GENTLEMEN START YOUR ENGINES
Aside from the huge changes to operational procedures and the logistical headaches (see our earlier post on this), teams are coming to terms with the long-term requirement to wear PPE and ensure drivers, team personnel, and Formula 1 staff remain safe. As the teams shortly head off to Austria where the temperatures can soar to well over 30 degrees in the summer months, the heat combined with the requirements to wear face masks will add a challenging addition to fitness.
On the track, the teams are starting to show their hands, with some ready to shake down the upgrades they’ve had mothballed during the COVID-19 lockdown.
It was reported last week in the motorsport press that Mercedes-Benz were releasing new upgrades for Austria, and that has been followed up with Renault announcing new parts to bring greater performance to the car. With the lack of track time to fine tune the upgrades it will require a steep learning curve for all teams to optimise their performance.
In addition, the FIA has published the revised operational regulations for the return of racing in Austria under COVID-19 restrictions.
The revisions are expected to cover post-race routines such as driver weigh-ins, media interviews including the media pen, and permissible celebrations on the podium although now detail has yet been shared.
Allowable activity before the race will be significantly reduced, with cars arriving on the grid much closer to lights-out and a reduction in authorised pit crew numbers around the car. This will also facilitate social distancing. Further reductions in team staff on the grid will be enforced as the clock ticks towards the start of the race, although teams will gain an extra hour a day to work on the car in their garages to compensate the lost time on race day.
The FIA regulations also have a wider impact effecting the choice of tyre compounds, with Pirelli having more scope to choose which compounds they offer the teams much closer to each race day.
Tyre regulation changes are not so directly associated with the lockdown procedures but are around who chooses the mix of tyres for the race. Historically the teams could decide how many sets their drivers could have of each compound. Moving forward, this will be a fixed number for every team, two sets of hard, three of medium, and eight soft.
Race administration will also be brought in line with remote working practices already used in most businesses, with stewards monitoring the race and discussing infringements using online meeting technology such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams instead of being onsite in race control. Any interviews with drivers around regulations breaches would be held in the same way.
However, the single biggest body of personnel on the track, will not have the option of working remotely. Track side marshals are a dedicated breed made up of volunteers who commit their time to race week. With the double header race meetings at The Red Bull Ring and Silverstone, marshals will need to commit four weeks of training and race support on the circuit over the 4 races held between the beginning of July and August. During a race weekend around 450 marshals are used around the circuit without counting the first responder teams also needed to ensure safety to drivers (and usually spectators). Whilst the hospitality teams won’t be required the marshalling and safety numbers will not be reduced.
Motorsport and those of us who love to follow it are grateful to all those that dedicate their free time to ensuring races go ahead without hitch and safety.