So how did F1 finally manage to kick-start its disrupted 2020 season with a race that was originally scheduled to be the 11th round of the championship?
It was the result of months of diligent work by the FIA, the F1 organisation, the sport’s 10 teams and the Austrian Grand Prix organisers. Nothing was left to chance, and that preparation set an example for other upcoming races to follow.
There are sound reasons why Austria made sense as a starting point, and the track’s name is the first clue. The owners of the Red Bull Ring see the venue as a marketing tool, and it runs to a different business model than many other venues, so the lack of paying fans was not an issue. Naturally, there was also a great impetus within the Salzburg-based company to see its two teams, Red Bull and AlphaTauri, back in action.
Austria also got on top of the coronavirus relatively quickly, and the country relaxed its lockdown earlier than most European territories. The government saw F1 as a way of signalling to the world that Austria was open for business. In addition, the track’s remote, alpine location – with nearby Zeltweg airfield able to receive private jets – meant that it was a good place to test F1’s new ‘closed doors’ protocols.
All of those factors gelled with fortuitous timing. When F1 boss Chase Carey and his team began working on a revised schedule of an initial eight races in Europe, beginning with two in Austria, they didn’t know that much of the continent would begin to open up in late June and that events such as domestic football would be able to restart.
Key to the process was the FIA’s Covid-19 Code of Conduct. Produced to be scrutinised by governments of hosting countries, especially those where bans on mass gatherings remain in place, it details testing and other procedures. The plan involves creating ‘bubbles’ and splitting personnel into groups. There was no mixing between teams, and there are even smaller units within each team. There are special rules for organisations such as the FIA and tyre supplier Pirelli, whose staff usually cross over between teams.
Every effort was made to reduce the number of people on site. The regulations were changed to restrict teams to 80 people, of whom 60 represent the usual limit of operational personnel with a direct influence on the car. There’s no scope for VIPs or sponsor guests within the extra 20 passes.