Formula 1’s new health and safety protocols are set to present teams with a “real challenge” once the delayed 2020 season gets underway next month. 

In line with F1’s return to racing in Austria on July 5 following a four-month hiatus caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the sport will adopt a raft of strict new hygiene guidelines to ensure the safety of drivers and team staff this season. 

The opening eight European-based events will all take place behind closed doors with a significantly smaller presence in the personnel travelling to each race across the board for teams, the FIA, suppliers and F1. 

Social distancing measures will be implemented where possible, as will the use of personal protective equipment (PPE). 

Naturally, this will limit how close engineers can get to each other when working on the car, while the wearing of PPE will impact on the time it takes to carry out a task. 

In order to prepare for F1’s dubbed ‘new normal’, several teams - including Mercedes, Renault, Racing Point and Ferrari - have conducted a series of test outings in recent weeks to familiarise themselves with the protocols. 

Mercedes technical director James Allison said teams have been left “utterly paranoid” to ensure the changes to working procedures do not end up being detrimental to the team’s ultimate performance, adding the tests were crucial to “make sure we’ve blown away all the cobwebs”. 

“A very particular and unusual working environment means that there are an awful lot of considerations that we, as a team, and as a whole industry, have had to bring to bare to try to make it so we can race in this new and hopefully not long-lasting world of dealing with COVID-19,” Allison said during an in-house Mercedes video. 

“We will have found out where all the pinch points are and we will have a chance to put them right ahead of when it really counts, the first race of the year.” 

Having run through the new safety protocols for the first time last week at Silverstone, Racing Point technical chief Andrew Green explained just how they will impact teams during race weekends. 

“It’s very different and it’s going to be a real challenge going forward,” Green said following the team’s pre-Austria shake down of its RP20 at the home of the British Grand Prix. 

“[It] effectively changes the time it takes to do jobs on the car. Jobs now take a lot longer, and we have to try and manage that. We only have a certain amount of time trackside to work on the car. 

“When we’re in a race environment, we have curfews in place, so we have to now look at how long it takes to change and modify parts on the car that we would normally do, but reschedule them to make sure we are doing what we need to do during a race weekend and not contravene the curfew regulations. That’s a big part of what we were trying to learn [in the test].

“It was a very limited exposure to this way of working,” he added.  

“You could attempt to do a lot of this work in the factory if you wanted to. We were trying to put it in a live environment. By no means have we got all our protocols in place. 

“It was definitely a steep learning curve, and we’ll make modifications over the next few events to suit. We’re still learning, but it did give us a real heads up on how challenging race weekends are going to be, while you’re trying to run the car.”

With Racing Point coming to terms with the true extent of the challenge posed by the new measures, Green reckons it could now take mechanics nearly twice as long to change a power unit. 

This will place even greater emphasis on reliability, particularly during the early rounds of the season amid the jam-packed calendar that will feature no fewer than eight races crammed into just 10 weeks, including two triple-headers. 

“I suspect changing an engine now will take quite some time,” Green said. “We can only have certain members of the crew working on the car at any one time, and that does limit the speed in which you can do a power unit change.

“When we get into the real meat of the car, and centre around the power unit, we’re probably looking at, in some cases, it taking twice as long.”

Teams have also expressed concerns over spare parts due to the congested nature of the revised 2020 schedule. 

Green says that minimising mistakes will be key and hopes that his team’s drivers will be more mindful of the extra pressure and potential for increased strain that will be placed on mechanics throughout the grand prix weekend. 

“Once you get a big reliability issue, it will start putting strain on the team to get parts repaired and modified on time, so there are going to be times when it will be a real challenge,” he explained.

“We’ll do what we can pre-event, but during the event, we hope we maintain the reliability we always strive for and have two drivers who should be aware if they do go off during a practice session and do a lot of damage, it potentially could take a lot longer to repair. I think they will be well aware of that.”

Just how this will impact teams’ performances, and whether it will subsequently affect the eventual outcome of the world championship, remains to be seen. 

But with F1 adjusting to one of its biggest ever challenges, there is one certainty - the sport will not look the same in a world recovering from coronavirus.

 

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