F1 team bosses reckons work like Project Pitlane shows that the grid can work together when needed despite the competitive edge they have.
With a new set of challenges at the start of 2020, the F1 paddock flexed its collaborative muscles, working on ‘Project Pitlane’ to help address a ventilator shortage in the fight against COVID-19, and teams even ratifying a set of new, necessary regulations through compromise.
Yet when time came to return to the track in the summer, teams did not forbear from partaking in usual politics, and resumed ruthless competition, with one point of contention being Racing Point’s RP20, widely criticised for appearing similar to 2019’s Mercedes W10.
At the end of the 2020 F1 season, Renault boss Cyril Abiteboul recognised this contrast, and asserted that, although camaraderie pulls the paddock together in times of need, fierce competition will always exist once cars hit the track.
“I think we have seen two extremes, what we have been able to demonstrated is that when things became extremely serious, for the world, for the economy, for the sport, for the health and safety of our personnel, the community, the camaraderie and spirit is here. There is no question about that,” said Abiteboul.
“There is something that pulls us together, the greater good of the sport and sometimes also of the world, as per the initiative we mentioned, it’s there. But for the rest, let’s not be under any illusion, we are all fierce competitors. If we are in this position, there is no coincidence; it’s simply because we want to win.
“Maybe our aspirations are different, our brands are different but we are all extremely loyal to our brands, our teams and to our desire to win, which means to beat the guy who is next to us. It’s as simple as that and I don’t think we should expect much more than that,” summed up Abiteboul.
Racing Point boss Otmar Szafnauer, who was at the center of the vexed RP20 controversy at the season start, agreed with this proposition, saying that the paddock’s willingness to cooperate is dependent on each teams’ respective goals.
“When we have a common goal, we come together and work realty well together towards that common goal but when our goals are a bit disparate because we are both trying to beat each other on track, for sure will work very hard to achieve the competitiveness that we need to track. It all depends on the situation. If our goals are the same then we work very well together,” Szafnauer surmised.
Alfa Romeo boss Frederic Vasseur noted a similar pattern, hailing the paddock’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic prior to the start of the season. “For sure, at the end we will stay competitors but I think honestly that the reaction that the F1 – when I say, F1, it’s F1: FOM, the FIA, all the teams – had together in March and April when we were in a very tough situation was an excellent move, compared to what happened in the past.
“We were able to correspond the regulations, to build up a new calendar, to sign the cost-cap, even to reduce the level of the cost-cap and I think that at this stage the reaction was very, very positive for F1 in general. Now we have to keep this momentum for the future and even if the competition is coming back each time that we are sitting around the table, but I think we have to keep it in mind that we were able to have this kind of reaction and to stick to it for the future,” Vasseur said.
Even though Williams team principal Simon Roberts was not directly involved in the earlier meets where Claire sat, the former McLaren member was full of praise too. “I think we have to remember, we are all human beings and when you get a global crisis, it’s a great opportunity for everyone to step up together and work collaboratively on that but as Fred said, when we’re racing, we’re fiercely competitive,” he said.
“We employ competitive drivers, we are all competitive engineers and managers of the teams, so we shouldn’t forget that but behind the scenes there are always lots of discussions in Formula 1. Some of spills out to the public, some of it looks political but we race together and we need to race together, so I think it’s situation normal.”
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