Drivers, Mercedes, Circuit de Catalunya, 2020

GPDA discussing “very, very difficult” decision when to resume F1 racing

2020 F1 season

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Formula 1 drivers have acknowledged the sport faces a “very difficult” decision over when it will be able to hold its first race this year, says Sebastian Vettel.

The championship promoters are considering whether some races will have to be held behind closed doors without fans present. Vettel confirmed the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association has discussed the possibility as well as how many races could be held when the season begins.

“We have spoken about that quite a fair amount inside the GPDA,” he said. “I think it’s a very, very difficult one. It’s a tough decision.”

F1 must consider the safety implications of trying to hold races even without fans and the need for the sport to remain financially healthy, said Vettel.

“On the one hand you have obviously the health of the sport. If you look at it from a business aspect, on the other hand, we have a responsibility over people in the paddock, the working people inside the paddock and of course, most importantly, the fans.

Claire Williams, Albert Park, Melbourne, 2020
‘We have a responsibility over the fans’
“A lot of people normally come to us to watch our races. And we need to make sure that as much as we’re taking care of ourselves, we also take care of the public.

“Now, there’s a lot of options at the moment you can think of in terms of how to get going again. What’s the best format to start racing again, whether it’s without fans, whether it’s with fans, or ghost or no-ghost races. I think nobody likes to race in front of empty grandstands, it feels a bit odd.

“On the other hand, the question is obviously when is the right time to start racing again and whether a ghost race could be held a lot sooner than a race in the way that we are used to it. I don’t know.

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“It depends on a lot of things. There’s a lot of things on the business side involved as well. I think what we would all like is to get back to normal, but not just for Formula 1’s sake, I think for everybody’s sake and the whole world of it.”

F1 will have to “be patient”, said Vettel, but he admitted “it is painful because I want to get back in the car. If I’m selfish, I want to race.”

The delayed start to the season means F1 will need to fit more races into a compressed amount of time. However Vettel pointed out “it’s not realistic to have 10 back-to-back weekends” as teams staff need to have breaks between races.

“As drivers we are a bit on the lucky end, obviously. Races can be tough, race weekends can be tough. Whether they will change format as well as losing a day of the weekend I don’t know.

“But I think the limit will be the team, the staff, the mechanics. So we get not just the cars from one place to another, that can be done quite quickly. But obviously you need to give enough rest in between for people and the logistics. I think that will be the limit.

‘It’s not realistic to have 10 back-to-back weekends’
“Also I’m not aware of how easily you can just add in races or how happy the [promoters] will be, how busy they will be with other races as well, other categories that want to race such as Moto GP and so on.

“There’s a lot of questions to have an answer to. I think that we will probably have more races, we will be more packed. But I think the limit should be the people and that should be respected as well. So I think that every now they also need a break.”

Vettel expects “the first couple of races will be a bit compromised compared to what we used to” when the season does begin.

“But hopefully not too much, because obviously we want to keep racing in a way that we are familiar with, meaning in front of crowds, in front of fans with great atmosphere and so on.”

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Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...
Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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  • 23 comments on “GPDA discussing “very, very difficult” decision when to resume F1 racing”

    1. The only question mark really is how soon could F1-racing come back even without attendees? Would the Austrian GP be late enough for that as has been the speculation most recently? This whole time I’ve been and still am hopeful that there’s going to be at least some racing this year even though there are also people who don’t think any racing could happen this year, or at least not until a vaccine for COVID-19 is out, but I’m not this pessimistic. The point he makes about holding races within a compressed number of days indeed is true. Under no circumstances, could racing on every single weekend be achievable logistically. On three consecutive weekends at max, so at maximum, every fourth weekend would have to be an off-weekend or a triple-header followed by off-weekend followed by triple-header and so on, but even that’d be an unnecessarily high task for the travelling teams.

    2. I think nobody likes to race in front of empty grandstands, it feels a bit odd.

      Of all sports, motor racing needs full grandstands the least.
      With some smart camera work you hardly notice it at home.

      1. @coldfly Totally agree!

      2. I’ve heard that on some TV shows they have some sort of popularity gauge … in fact I think they use something like that in Formula E … where fans collectively vote to show their appreciation. Why can’t F1 have people vote for drivers or a team or even just the race while it is running and have that appreciation shown on the electronic signs where the drivers can see it? Maybe even have collective votes be linked to cheering sounds that come out of the speaker systems as the cars go passed the Grand Stand. I know that’s sort of “fake”, but normally many fans watch a race live from afar and have no way of showing their appreciation if they see some display of skill or sportsmanship or such like. Normally the feedback is just from a small portion of the collective audience, namely those who could actually attend the race. The rest of the audience aren’t able to give any feedback. So all you’re doing is giving feedback from the fans that are “there” but not on site.

        1. Creative idea @drycrust.

      3. How’s the FIA gonna get its fees from promoters if the grandstands are empty?

        1. How’s the FIA gonna get its fees from promoters if the grandstands are empty?

          I assume you talk about how FOM will get it’s revenue, @pironitheprovocateur.
          Hosting fees are only 30% of FOM’s revenue. It’s better to spend some money (logistics, etc.) to safeguard the other 70% (broadcasting, sponsorship, other) than just give up on the season.
          And even without spectators, there are various countries willing to pay to continue the F1 race. FOM will work hardest at keeping those on the calendar.

      4. @coldfly

        With some smart camera work you hardly notice it at home.

        Like Rugby league.

    3. I have lost some respect for the GPDA, because beyond big words, they don’t seem to really back things up.

      Wind the clock back over a month ago, when McLaren’s staff were found to be infected with the coronavirus. Back then, the GPDA said (published on Thursday March 12th 2020):

      Vettel also says that if things got worse in Melbourne – and staff were taken ill or worse – then the drivers would be strong enough to stand up and push for the race to be abandoned.

      “I hope others would agree, and we hope it doesn’t get that far, but if it were to get that far then for sure you pull the handbrake,” said the German.

      “I think we are a group of 20 guys and I think we’ve got together over the last years for various circumstances on various topics, and I think we share common opinion on big decisions and that.

      “I would qualify it is a very, very big decision and ultimately, as I said before, you look at yourself.

      “And we would, I think, be mature enough to look after ourselves and pull the handbrake in that case.”

      And yet, it was Vettel, one of the GPDA directors, who quietly texted his fellow director Grosjean that he wasn’t racing.

      No statement, no brave handbrake pulling, just a quiet exit. And I’m not singling out Vettel either. Grosjean and Alex Wurz also seem to have maintained firm silence on behalf of the GPDA on the Friday of the Aus GP.

      Maybe they couldn’t speak out as they were contractually muzzled. Maybe they just buckled under pressure. Maybe they didn’t want to rock the boat. Maybe they were gently reminded they didn’t have the authority or power to actually influence decision making. Whatever be the case, their earlier grand pronouncements don’t really match up to their actions and silence afterwards.

      So, I don’t expect any better of the GPDA on the current topic as well. They can discuss all they want, but it’ll end up being nothing but hot air, if the decisions are made by others.

      1. @phylyp Maybe it was Vettel’s way of telling Grosjean that the GPDA didn’t need to get involved as the race was off.

      2. “no brave handbrake pulling”, but still doing a 180 ;)

      3. Fair point, @phylyp. In a way, we could say it is expected, since drivers don’t even gather around together anymore, let alone say they deliberate accordingly.
        Tbh, I don’t recall any major contribution of the GPDA since their refoundation. It always seemed to me things happened regarless they took part in it or not.

      4. I don’t believe it is fair to be blaming Sebastian. Early in March, before the Melbourne GP, Ross Brawn said that if even one team wasn’t able to attend a Grand prix then there wouldn’t be a race. When McLaren withdrew from the Melbourne GP that effectively ended the GP.
        Subsequently we have seen some of the photos of “behind the scenes” at Melbourne and it looks as though the organisers were treating the virus very lightly.
        Also, I wouldn’t be surprised if most of the drivers would incur substantial fines if they weren’t able to drive when a team asked them to. If so, then that could explain why Sebastian waited until he got permission from the team before he left the GP for the airport.

        1. I don’t believe it is fair to be blaming Sebastian.

          My comment is directed at the GPDA, as my first and last sentences indicate. I’m not blaming Vettel individually, which is why I wrote:

          And I’m not singling out Vettel either. Grosjean and Alex Wurz also seem to have maintained firm silence on behalf of the GPDA

          Also, I wouldn’t be surprised if most of the drivers would incur substantial fines if they weren’t able to drive when a team asked them to.

          Exactly. Which is why the GPDA should stop acting like they have influence or a voice at the table for matters like this. And they should formally seek that out with something like the F1 commission, if they wish (e.g. get Liberty or the FIA to give one of their 10 seats to a GPDA representative).

    4. I haven’t really followed the pros and cons on when and how to resume racing recently, but are double headers completely out of the question? Like visiting for example the Red Bull Ring, free practice on Thursday, quali and race 1 on Friday. Free practice on Saturday, quali and race 2 on Sunday. I guess it imposes other types of logistical challenges not only for the teams but for the tracks as well, not to mention that some tracks would be able to organize multiple races, meanwhile some of them won’t be able to see racing at all.

    5. Seidl said it: No F1 re-start till the public back the idea.

    6. I think the season is a bust, truly. This is going to roll on far longer than some are optimistically believing. Even just sending thousands of F1 personnel around the world in close quarters will probably not be feasible nor advisable by the end of the year, and certainly no races will be held this year with fans present. Many in the music industry for example don’t expect any music gigs/concerts taking place until well into next year, maybe even longer, so tens of thousands at an F1 race just ain’t happening.

      I think Formula One should be throwing money at iRacing to get a proper racing e-series set up. A professional one like the IndyCar or V8 Supercars. Present it properly, feature as many real world F1 tracks as the game has, and get every driver setup to take part and do a proper official e-series online, shown live on YouTube or on their F1 app if they must (globally, no restrictions). That would go some way to alleviating the lack of real racing as the IndyCar and V8 races have been really compelling to watch, and at times you forget it’s just virtual, given the fidelity and believability of the car physics etc.

      1. Absolutely spot on! I like your idea of F1 investing in producing a top quality sim-racer.

    7. Andreas Seidl hit the nail on the head very simply.

      F1 wont race until its accepted by people to be a valid activity in the current climate.

      That isnt going to be this year.

    8. As others have said many times, it would be far better for F1 to produce a small number of top quality F1 races than to try and fit most of the calendar into the a small part of the year.
      In a sense the problems you face when driving, especially in a place where you haven’t driven before, are what F1 is facing now. We don’t know what is ahead, but we do know we don’t want to stay where we are. So why not start preparing for what we think will be ahead? For example, how difficult is it to think fans will expect social distancing rules to be followed when changing a wheel? So where is the demonstration showing how the tyres on an F1 car can be changed with just one person per wheel?
      Does F1 need to actually insist on all the tyres be changed during a race? Why not say “A car must drive through the pitlane at least once in a race?” Doesn’t that achieve more or less the same thing? Again, does a team need to have 3 Practice Sessions at the race track? Why can’t they do some of their practice sessions at race track near where they are based, before going to the Grand Prix, so there’s only one Practice Session at the track. Why not let them spend say one full day or two half days at a track of their choice doing practice before they go to a GP. After all the aim is to produce a top quality race. If we want a top quality race then we need to let teams do more practice, especially those teams that we normally associate with being near the back of the grid.
      Does it really matter if we can’t call it a World Constructors Championship round? No! Safety is the paramount issue. It may even be there are only a few tracks that are actually suitable for racing on in the current climate. Also, it could be some of the drivers and team members won’t be able to attend the race because doing that might create problems with visas, so substitute drivers and team members may have to be found.

    9. There will be no F1 season this year. People need to finally accept it as a realistic option and stop spitting out unrealistic scenarios with two or three races happening on the same circuit, hybrid race weekends etc. You only make this agony unbearable and almost tragicomic.

    10. I actually think it is quite likely there will be some racing this year but not certain. I was looking at an entirely unrelated news story about a major airline forecasting what they think their flight capacity will be at certain months later in the year. They are predicting that by August capacity will be back up to 60%. 75% sometime between September and the end of the year.

      I think there is a possibility that racing behind closed doors could start August/September time? I think Austria and the UK holding races in July might still be too early. It will depend if course on the policies of individual countries as well.

      I think the move to having fans attend might be pretty slow and I think F1 is being majorly optimistic if they think they will get 18/19 races in. I could see there being 12 perhaps. It depends if they really consider going beyond the end of the year. I hope not.

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