How has COVID-19 affected Formula One?

There may not be any Formula One this weekend, but that won’t stop me writing something! I’ve been thinking about how the current pandemic has affected the sport and the people in it and I thought I would share my feelings on it.

I’ve said in previous articles I’ve written that I applaud everyone involved in bringing the sport back to our screens. They have done a fantastic job and it can’t have been easy. There are 10 Formula One teams with hundreds of staff (and that’s just including people who go to the races with the teams, not the people back at the various factories in different countries), the media and pundits and various other people who follow the Formula One ‘circus’ around.

It must have been, and must still be a logistical nightmare. So they deserve so much praise for bringing back the sport we love. It’s a little strange, with everyone, drivers included, wearing face masks. Even the presenters have to wear them and conduct their interviews whilst socially distanced, with static microphones placed in front of the interviewee.

It is strange to see, as F1 has always been a very social sport, with drivers and personnel from different teams mixing and spending time together, but now teams must stay in their own ‘bubble’ to prevent any transmission between teams. Fortunately, there has been extensive testing and only one positive case, I do believe, so it is a testament to how this whole situation has been handled.

Inevitably, the season was postponed back in March, shortly after Pre-Season testing concluded. As a die-hard F1 fan, I was incredibly frustrated at this, but it was for the best. The F1 community showed solidarity and support during the difficult time and it was interesting to see how the 20 drivers spent their extra time away from the circuit, keeping fit and spending time with loved ones (when able to do so!). There were plans to restart the season in July, which was successful, but there were obviously cancellations of races. Australia, the planned first race, was one of them. Famous venues will not be hosting races this year, including Brazil, China, Bahrain, and probably the most famous of all: Monaco.

When the season did get underway, it was in Austria. There were three races in three weeks, with two races in Austria followed by one in Hungary. After a two week break, there will be two races back to back in Silverstone, thought of by many as the home of Formula One, due to the first-ever F1 race being held there back in 1950.

While the first race of the strange 2020 season was full of excitement, the next two didn’t live up to the first race in the Austrian mountains, so hopefully, there will be more exciting races with action and plenty of overtaking when we return in Silverstone! Mercedes are currently streets ahead of their nearest competitors Red Bull, however, so the other 9 teams have a lot of work to do!

The stands are horrible with no fans. Usually, hordes of fans flock to the Austrian Grand Prix, turning one grandstand completely orange with their support for Max Verstappen. Silverstone will be very strange as well, as the grandstands that are usually packed with Formula One fans following their favourite driver completely bare. Lewis Hamilton has, of course, attracted thousands of fans during his highly successful and dominant career in the sport, so seeing the Grand Prix circuit devoid of Hamilton fans and British flags will take some getting used to. Fellow British drivers George Russell, Lando Norris, and Anglo-Thai driver Alex Albon will be missing their home support, too.

Although the calendar has had inevitable cancellations, there have been several races added to the schedule in recent weeks, some of which are returning venues and some will be hosting F1 races for the first time.

The first new venue to be added was Mugello in Italy, which will play host to the Tuscan Grand Prix. The Russian Grand Prix in Sochi was another one to be added, which is a current F1 venue.

Most recently, there have been three incredibly exciting venues added. The first is Portimao, with F1 returning to Portugal for the first time since 1996. Germany will make a welcome return to the calendar, returning to the world-famous Nurburgring for the Eifel Grand Prix. The Nurburgring has hosted plenty of races, including the infamous wet race in 2007, which saw Markus Winkelhock incredibly lead his one and only F1 race in the unfancied Spyker, despite qualifying last.

The third circuit to be announced got my attention more than the others. Formula One will be returning to the Imola circuit for the first time in 16 years. The circuit is famous for an unfortunate reason, being the venue at which both Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna lost their lives in the same weekend back in 1994. The race in Imola will be different from the other races this year, being only a 2-day event as opposed to the normal 3 day weekend. The exact format hasn’t been revealed yet, but it looks like there may only be one practice session before Qualifying and the Race, instead of the usual 3 sessions. It also won’t have it’s the old title of the San Marino Grand Prix, instead of being called the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.

Covid-19 has certainly disrupted and changed the sport, but the community has been absolutely phenomenal and brought it back safely and securely and we have a lot to be thankful for. I honestly can’t remember a time I looked forward to a season beginning more than I have this year, even though it was expected that Mercedes would dominate for yet another year. I can’t wait for the rest of the races, especially the two Silverstone races and the return of Imola, which is a venue that fans have often requested to be back on the calendar!

Until next time, take care and stay safe!

Steve Thomson

F1 Fan