Formula 1’s new season begins with the Austrian Grand Prix on 5 July, with the first half of the campaign having been wiped out by the coronavirus pandemic.
But, while the competition will be just as fierce once track action gets underway, F1 will face a ‘new normal’ as it bids to operate under unique protocols laid down to ensure events can go ahead.
Here we look at what’s changed for fans, drivers and teams as F1 gets going again.
Closed door races
While there still remains a risk of COVID-19 being transmitted among the general public, no fans will be allowed in for at least the first phase of the championship.
F1 is instead planning fully closed-door events where there will be no spectators, no guests, no sponsors and dramatic cuts in the numbers of other staff present.
Teams will be operating with reduced personnel (a maximum of 80), while there will only be a select few media allowed on site to cover the event.
Even those press members going will not get access to the paddock nor pits; and interviews will be conducted with full social distancing put in place.
Don’t expect motorhomes either, with F1 thinking it better that teams use the circuit infrastructure and facilities because these will provide a more controlled environment and minimise the chances of an outbreak.
Also, expect everyone at the track to be wearing face masks.
All F1 personnel going will have to follow strict instructions on their behaviour prior to and at the event. Every person going into the track will have signed an official FIA Code of Conduct.
For team members who work in the paddock and pitlane, that means they will need to have had a negative COVID-19 test before being able to travel. They will also be tested every five days while on the road with F1.
Furthermore, F1 will use a contract Track and Trace App, specifically designed for the close confines of a racing circuit, to better allow organisers to deal with an outbreak and know who any infected team member has been in close contact with.
Team members will also not be allowed to mix with other competitors, and they have to stay in strict ‘social bubbles’ to ensure they are only in contact with those that are essential for their job.
The FIA said in a recent document: “The number of interactions between groups should be minimised to mitigate virus transmission between groups.
“Where interactions between groups cannot be avoided, without unduly jeopardising safety, sporting governance or the ability of a competitor to compete in an event, social distancing should be respected or additional personal protective equipment (PPE) should be used to mitigate virus transmission.”
Longer working hours
Thanks to social distancing requirements, and the need for team members to wear face masks and other PPE, some garage jobs are going to take longer than normal.
Racing Point technical director Andy Green said recently that he expected engine changes would now take twice as long.
In light of this, teams will be given some extra leeway when it comes to their working hours – with F1’s curfew having been relaxed.
Team members can now work one hour later on Thursday and Friday evenings, and the curfew now lasts for eight hours, instead of nine.
No tyre choices
With F1 needing as much flexibility as possible to get a calendar put in place, and teams and suppliers facing some unique challenges because of it, F1’s tyre rules have changed too.
Whereas before teams were allowed to pick how many of each type of tyre they wanted for a weekend, now there is a standard allocation. Each driver will get two sets of hard, three of mediums, and eight softs.
Previously the tyre supplier also had to nominate its compound choices 15 weeks before flyaway races, and nine weeks before European events.
Those requirements have been deleted, and the rules now say that the allocations should be made known “unless otherwise determined by the FIA and with the agreement of the supplier, no less than two weeks prior to each event“.
The provision for compulsory running of extra experimental tyres has been tweaked slightly, and will now take place in the first 30 minutes of FP2, instead of the last 30 minutes.
Briefings via Zoom
Race officials will be operating in rooms where tables and chairs have been moved apart to ensure social distancing.
It has also been agreed that if any drivers are summoned to see the stewards to discuss a matter, that PPE is worn at all times.
Drivers and official briefings may now take place outside if a suitably large room cannot be found to hold all those required to attend, or they may be conducted via a video teleconference facility like Zoom.
The FIA has also allowed for any travel issues stewards may face in getting to a race by allowing them to work remotely if there is a last-minute drama.
No driver parade
The lack of fans, allied to the fact drivers need to maintain social distancing, means that the regular Sunday morning drivers’ parade also will not take place for now.
Crowding 20 drivers on to the back of a truck for them to mingle with each other and be interviewed just isn’t feasible amid the pandemic.
Instead, it is likely the drivers will be interviewed one-by-one in front of their garages in that usual Sunday morning slot, so fans can still get a bit of pre-race build-up excitement.
New grid procedure – or no grid at all
One of the most difficult situations over an F1 weekend to manage is the grid build-up to the race – as it is the one point at an event where every team is in close proximity to each other.
To try to minimise the chance of contact, grid procedures have been tweaked to allow for social distancing, with a minimal amount of people involved, and for less time.
Teams are only allowed to have 40 personnel on the grid, a number that equates to exactly half the total head count that they are now allowed to take to races.
Without the usual full pre-race ceremonies, the pit exit now closes 20 minutes before the start, rather than the usual 30.
Cars will now need to have their tyres fitted five minutes before the start, rather than three, and at that signal “team personnel and equipment trolleys must commence leaving the grid“.
A new rule states that “when the three minute signal is shown, no more than 16 team personnel for each competitor are permitted on the grid“. The remaining crew members will have to leave before the 15-second signal, as has been usual.
The new five minute tyres fitted rule will also apply to race resumptions.
However, if a risk analysis determines that having all teams on the grid in the build-up to the race risks too much contact between personnel, then a completely different approach could be taken and the grid build-up abandoned completely.
The FIA says that one possible solution then would be for the cars to go straight from their garages to the race start.
The document says: “It could be considered to remove the grid procedure from the event schedule and start the formation lap from the garages.”
Things will be very different at the end of races too, with F1 unable to run a traditional podium ceremony because of social distancing requirements.
There is no way the series could risk having drivers getting that close to each other, or mixing with dignitaries and officials as is common place just before the champagne celebrations.
Instead, there is a plan to have some form of post-race trophy-giving down on the grid when the cars return after their slowing down lap.
F1 managing director of motorsport Ross Brawn said recently: “One option would be to line the cars up on the track and the drivers will stand in front of cars.
“We can’t present the trophies, as you can’t have someone in close proximity presenting a trophy, but we have worked it out. We have plans and procedures, we’re looking at how we can present it on TV.”