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Opinion: Time for F1 to experiment… if and when 2020 gets going

It is easy to forget that it has been just one month since pre-season testing got underway at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.
At that point the COVID-19 coronavirus had some prominence but it remained a faraway threat that had only derailed the Chinese Grand Prix, potentially threatened Vietnam, and meant that our Chinese colleague wasn’t allowed inside McLaren’s Brand Centre due to its Group policy.

We gathered in the chilly pit lane to look at some new cars and pondered the season ahead, how it could unfold, and rolled our eyes at the manic 21-race schedule to come.

                      (Photo by Sam Bloxham / LAT Images)

A lot can happen in 29 days huh?

Simply concentrating on Formula 1 we have had an abortive trip to Australia – at an event that was handled badly even if the correct outcome was made – with two other grands prix postponed. The season is set to begin in the Netherlands on May 3 but this feels wildly optimistic.

Other sporting and music events scheduled for May – and even June – have already fallen by the wayside. Monaco is pressing on with its circuit build, for now, and there was a reassuring sense of normality by tyre supplier Pirelli revealing its compound choice (this happens eight weeks prior to a European round, 14 weeks for a flyaway) on Thursday. Visas for Azerbaijan, scheduled for June 7, have currently been annulled.
Circuit atmosphere. Australian Grand Prix, Wednesday 11th March 2020. Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia.

Today should be Bahrain media day, by the way, in case anyone has forgotten. Usually we’d be hearing drivers trying to play down a strong start in Melbourne by stressing it is a unique circuit that can be misleading. Or hearing drivers trying to play down a terrible start in Melbourne by stressing it is a unique circuit that can be misleading.

Anyway, rather than convening on the scorching Sakhir International Circuit leading figures from Formula 1 are gathering on a conference call to discuss a variety of matters. Most prominent are the financial implications (given teams still need to pay staff and do not have much of an income when events are not taking place), whether to delay the new regulations by a year, and what a calendar could look like.

Sorting a Formula 1 calendar in normal circumstances is challenging enough for championship chiefs but doing so in the current situation, when no-one can be sure when The World Plc will be back open for business, makes knitting fog seem a simple predicament. We are currently under the assumption that a season can begin in Azerbaijan (optimistic), run through the summer break (tiring) and conclude with a potential triple-header of China, Bahrain and Abu Dhabi, concluding in mid-late December. This is possible if the Grand Re-Opening of The World can take place in the next eight weeks or so. Who knows. Or WHO knows?

But whatever the outcome may be it is surely high time for Formula 1 to experiment.
AlphaTauri AT01 nosecone. Australian Grand Prix, Wednesday 11th March 2020. Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia.

A different timetable and format was always going to be implemented for 2021 – the nuances of which remain under discussion – but with tradition now out of the window then now is the ideal opportunity to use whatever is left of 2020 to see what does and does not work.

Qualifying races were widely mocked last September but given the current climate surely it is worth at least seeing if they are a success. If it doesn’t work, fine, stick a fork in them. Maybe spice up the race format elsewhere? Scrap the practice sessions entirely and see what happens? Run two full races at an event (something which would ostensibly placate broadcasters currently inspecting their contracts). Bin the motorhomes to help logistics. Restrict certain development. Maybe run one event (Bahrain?) on a Tuesday night. F1 races don’t always have to be on a Sunday afternoon/evening. No other sport sticks so rigidly to such a timetable.

We don’t even know if we’ll get a 2020 season. But, given recent developments, if we do then Formula 1 has a perfect blank sheet to see what does and doesn’t work. Formula 1 was always going to change heading into the 2020s. This is the chance to throw ideas around, reject the ones that fail, and profit long-time.

Source: Motorsport Week (Phillip Horton)