Future of F1

“Two confirmed cases of corona-virus among F1 personnel.” “Australian GP Aborted.” “A Pirelli F1 personnel test positive.” “We’re targeting a start to racing in Europe through July, August and beginning of September.” “Is the Monaco race definitely not happening in 2020?” “September, October and November, would see us race in Eurasia, Asia and the Americas, finishing the season in the Gulf in December with Bahrain before the traditional finale in Abu Dhabi, having completed between 15-18 races.” “Will any more races be postponed or cancelled?” “Lewis Hamilton in self-isolation.” “Will there be a next season?”

The wait for Formula 1 2020 season to begin may have been frustrating, but the championship at last got off. But, as the world continues to battle the Co-ViD pandemic, Formula 1 fans have waited to see when and how the cars will finally return to the track. As, since the sun set on pre-season testing at the Circuit de Catalunya, on February, Formula 1’s rule-makers had postponed or cancelled the first few races of the season.

Finally, a rescue package with eight European races squeezed into 10 weeks, culminating with the Italian GP on Sept. 6, was scrambled together. Formula 1 still hopes to rearrange some of the postponed races in order to finish the season with 15 to 18 of the scheduled 22, with strict health and safety measures having been put into place. When asked, FIA president Jean Todt described the current situation as one of “opportunity”, as the reduced $145million Formula 1 cost cap will prevent teams from dropping off the grid once the post-pandemic economic landscape becomes clear, and glad that changes are being made to F1 that would likely have never been agreed upon in the past. There will also be two consecutive races at the British GP. If the season continues beyond Europe, it will end with races in Bahrain and Abu Dhabi in December. But, that plan will heavily depend on air travel and quarantine restrictions easing, countries opening their borders and other logistical factors. Formula 1 could see more European races, to achieve the target of 15 to 18 races this season. That would still be a world of improvement for race drivers stuck to virtual racing.

Four months after the opening race was called off at the last minute, the Formula One season finally gets underway, on another continent and in a different-looking world. But, the sport has gone to considerable lengths to ensure it poses as little risk as possible of coronavirus infection. The opening eight races will be held behind closed doors and the paddock will operate as an enclosed biosphere. Team personnel will be tested for the virus every few days and practise social distancing. Under new rules to protect them from the CoViD-19 pandemic, Formula 1 drivers can forget about podium celebrations this season and have to be content with the cool-down laps. There will be no standing together for the national anthem or trophies handed over directly by local dignitary and the pre-race drivers’ parade is scrapped. But the fans won’t be there anyway. Yah! No more, Lewis Hamilton crowd-surfing at Silverstone; giant Ferrari flags at Monza; fans crammed into every possible gap in Monaco; packed F1 fan festivals in central London? Leave alone Formula 1, for now, forget in any event. Hopefully these fan bans will only prove temporary and more so that next year brings with it a return to largely open gates, even if these are less ‘ajar’ than in the past. Social distancing protocols – if not regulations – are, though, likely to mean that packed grandstands and podium ceremonies are over for the foreseeable future.

Even after all this, the triple header proved worth the wait, for the drama and the thriller film it was. Giving us the hope that this season is going to be another edge-to-edge corner turn.With, the 35-year-old British driver, Lewis Hamilton, chasing his seventh Formula 1 title to equal Michael Schumacher’s record, and only needs to win five more races to beat Schumi’s mark of 91. And, the suspense to what might happen to the German veteran, at the end of the year after failing to agree on a new contract. Also in having an inconsistent list of top five, with many new a fast racers coming in. Now, The CoViD-19 has change F1, for better in some aspects and worse in others. Will the essence of the sport, namely for the fastest driver/car combination over a set distance at a particular avenue on a specified day, change? Hardly, if at all. Will global consumption of that spectacle change? Yes, largely for the better for the TV audience – which outranks live attendances by 500:2 over a season – will benefit greatly.

Keeping that all aside, it is a season that should have marked a happy occasion for F1, 2020 being its 70th anniversary. A time to recall its origins when Italy’s Giuseppe ‘Nino’ Farina went from pole to flag at Silverstone in the first ever race on 13 May 1950, in the presence of Britain’s king and queen, and young princesses Elizabeth and Margaret. Silverstone remains very firmly on the calendar — hosting two races this year — and most of the teams are based in its orbit. And while having had 1018 world championship Grand Prix, we’ve seen 108 different drivers and 35 different teams win races, and 15 teams and 33 drivers win world titles. It’s also possible that a new name could be added to the list this year. Yah, some tracks have come and gone, and the calendar has expanded around the globe. But, F1 remains about talent, guts and innovation. It’s like the sporting arm of NASA: State-of-the-art boundary-pushing machines that make legends out of brave and clever humans, and for the rest of us mortals there’s vivid footage and staggering data that brings reality to what seems otherworldly.

Everywhere, there are new norms. How long will this carry on? We don’t know, but this will be the new norm for the rest of the year for sure. Despite this uncertainty, one thing is absolutely certain: Human behaviour as we knew it has changed totally, at least for the foreseeable future. Based on prevailing wisdom such changes will affect every aspect of life, and, by extension, motorsports generally and Formula 1, more specifically. But as humans have survived greater crises and evolved into improved beings as a result. The same can be expected from F1, the septuagenarian, who has also evolved through few pandemics and two world wars, and when asked fearlessly replies, “I want to fight my fight. I was to drive my race. The rest I am prepared to face.” Everything will be different, but hopefully better!”

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