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Images from the 2020 Austrian Grand Prix
NEWS

F1 Is Back: Racing As One

Jul 092020

It’s late June, and Hungarian Ferenc Szisz has just taken victory in the French Grand Prix. After two days, and just shy of 780 miles of clattering around a race track comprised of public roads in the LeMans region, Ferenc (and his ‘riding mechanic’ M. Marteau) brought their two-seat, 90bhp Renault home for the win; half an hour ahead of nearest rival Felice Nazzaro.

The year was 1906, and Grand Prix racing was officially a go.

Since then drivers, teams, fans and organisers have all enjoyed a near 114 year run of wheel-to-wheel action, which, save for temporary hiatuses caused by two world wars, has raced from season-lights to final-flag largely uninterrupted; attracting ever growing numbers of teams and crowds along the way.

Much like the rest of the world, F1 is now taking its first explorative wheel turns since entering total shutdown and lockdown for almost 15 weeks. And while it’s great news that racing is back; the threat of Covid-19 is still ever present.

 

Ordinarily an F1 paddock epitomises the very essence of glamour and buzz. Between the high-shine hospitality buildings, international media, and VIP guests - an opportunity to wield a paddock pass on a race weekend, would almost guarantee a chance to rub shoulders with influence or celebrity. Not so anymore - at least for the moment.

 

It’s a closed shop affair for now. Private charter flights limited strictly to F1 personnel on board, repeat virus testing, and total segregation of teams both at the track and at hotels in the evening are the new mandates. On the other side of the fence, no crowds will be allowed into the circuits, and the vastly slimmed down press attendees will require proof of a negative test, no older than 72 hours, just to get a foot in the door - not that they will be allowed into the paddock, or near the teams either.

It’s a very different reality to what the F1 circus inhabited at the final flag drop in Abu Dhabi at the end of 2019. However, if defined by nothing else, Formula 1 is ever-evolving, and the teams are confident that they can make sense of the weirdness. None more so than Mercedes-AMG F1 team boss Toto Wolff.

 

“I think we know what to do, I think we know that protecting our staff and everybody who attends is the main priority,” said Wolff in an F1 vodcast. “But equally, it’s new ground, we’ve never been in this situation. We’re talking a lot about bubbles, less interaction with the other teams, the media, and the fans, and that will be a new experience. F1 has always been able to take out the positives, and if we’re able to provide a great show on Saturday and Sunday I think that’s going to compensate for the weirdness.”

At the time of writing, eight races have been scheduled; with the rest of the calendar still to be confirmed. An exciting run of eight Grand Prix in 10 weeks are on the table, including an unprecedented double British Grand Prix through July and August; marking the most solid start possible to F1’s new normal.


Amongst all of the change and upheaval, one thing remains business as usual though. The goal to win and be the best. For no-one more so than defending- and six-time World Driver’s Champion Lewis Hamilton. For Lewis, the new-look season is as much as an opportunity to make an impact on-track as it is off it.

“After we finished the brief test at Silverstone, it was just great to be back in the car - I had really missed it. This has been the first time since I was eight that I haven't started a season. When you live and breathe something you love, there's definitely a big void. The time away from racing has given me an opportunity to reflect.”

“Then when I first heard the races would be without fans, it gave me a really empty feeling initially because the fans are really what make the races,” explained Hamilton. “All around the world - at every race we go to; The more fans you have at a circuit, the more atmosphere there is. For us as a team, racing without them is going to be like a test day. Probably even worse than a test day in the sense that at a test day there’s not a huge amount of people - but there are still some!”

Beyond the lack of fans in the grandstands and the thinned out paddock, there is one more key change appearing on the F1 grid this year. Lewis and Valtteri’s 2020 Mercedes-AMG F1 W11 EQ Performance will proudly sport a new livery. More than just a stunning black paint job though - this colour swap goes beyond the car’s carbon fibre skin - cutting to the core of a vital global discussion.

Wolff explains: “We wish to use our voice and our global platform to speak up for respect and equality, and the Silver Arrow will race in black for the entire 2020 season to show our commitment to greater diversity within our team and our sport. We will not shy away from our weaknesses in this area, nor from the progress we must still make; our livery is our public pledge to take positive action. Racism and discrimination have no place in our society, our sport or our team: this is a core belief at Mercedes. But having the right beliefs and the right mindset isn’t enough if we remain silent.”

Hamilton, who was instrumental in the livery design change said: “I am so proud of this team, for being open eyed to the serious issue of racism and discrimination. They’ve taken steps to ensure they are being open minded, to be willing to learn from lessons past and present and working together whole heartedly for a better, more equal and inclusive future. The silver arrows has been a prominent leader for decades and this marks a new era for them also where we push for inclusion and diversity. We have much to do but I’m confident that together we can help change this sport and spark the others in the industry to follow.”

Lewis’ team mate at Mercedes Valtteri Bottas, is equally proud to stand behind the cause, added: “Formula One is a world that is defined by performance, but it still contains many barriers for people who come from backgrounds that haven’t traditionally been part of the sport. We know that our teams are stronger when they are more representative of the society we are part of, and it is important for us to be united and show our commitment to change. Racism and discrimination have no place in our sport or in our society and I am proud to stand with the team, with Lewis and with Mercedes-Benz in making this important statement.”

Arriving in Melbourne back in March, the feeling throughout the paddock and grandstands was that Mercedes were starting the season as favourites again, with Hamilton more hungry than ever to make his bid for a seventh drivers' championship. A feat that would draw him level with all-time record-holder Michael Schumacher, and secure his place indelibly as one of the all time greatest drivers of the sport.

Could a shortened season change expectations? Or skew those pre-season predictions? One thing is certain; don’t bet against team formerly-known-as The Silver Arrows just yet.

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