F1 teams discuss about the COVID-19 protocols as Racing Point says that FIA needs to be a bit more vigilant, while Pirelli reveals own bubble system.

The first race of the new-look 2020 F1 season saw zero COVID-19 tests come back positive, but that’s not to say the whole event went off without a hitch. Within the first few days, photographs were taken of Ferrari and Red Bull team members congregating without face mask, and then in the run-up to the upcoming Styrian GP, drivers Charles Leclerc and Valtteri Bottas returned to their respective home countries.

Both of the above were breaches of guidelines, and the FIA made clear to all involved entities that these actions were frowned upon. While Bottas was let off as he did not break the social bubble rule, Leclerc was reminded to not mingle in social level. However, the fact that the governing body is not harder on teams – particularly in the support series’ – concerns some of those in the paddock; specifically, Racing Point’s Otmar Szafnauer.

“That is a concern of mine,” admitted Szafnauer. “I make sure our team and we have other team members as well – we brought our health and safety officer, for example, to the first race to make sure that there are no breaches at all in our team.

“It’s a difficult thing to do when you have 80 people to look after and you just have to make sure that we communicate with them, they understand the risks, they understand the reason for the protocols and once you have a good understanding yourself it’s a lot easier to adhere to the protocols.

“First and foremost, I try to do that with our team. We’re all in the same hotel and when we get back to the hotel our team are not allowed to go out in the town fort dinner for example, we have to eat dinner together within the hotel. We travel in little groups as well and those groups stay together at the track too.

“When we’re here in the paddock we make sure we stay within our team and we don’t have interaction with others. Secondly, I think the FIA should look further and make sure that everybody is doing it. We saw in some of the support race paddocks, they’re not quite as vigilant as we are and then come into our paddock and we all have to stay vigilant because if there is an outbreak and we have to miss races, that would be disastrous.”

Williams Racing deputy principal Claire Williams did not comment on any of the aforementioned breaches, but did make clear that she is doing everything in her power to ensure members of her F1 team abide by the rules. “I don’t want to necessarily comment on any particular breaches as I don’t think it’s my place to do so,” said Williams.

“All I can say is that in what Otmar has said, we are doing the best that we can in our team to ensure that everybody within Williams adheres to the protocols that have been put in place and respects the guidelines. We haven’t been able to all be in the same hotel as one team but the team has remained in its bubble and we have been very careful to ensure that those guidelines are being adhered to by all our team personnel.

“It’s not easy, when everyone is away. It’s hard and you want to be able to go out, but we want to be able to do the right thing by our sport. A lot of people have put a lot of hard work in behind the scenes to make sure that is safe to go racing again and we don’t want to do anything to jeopardise that.

“So we have stayed within our bubble away from the race track, not going out, and obviously we have followed all the guidelines that have been put in place while we’re here. I think that F1 has done a fantastic job in the first week that we have been away.”

Haas’ Guenther Steiner disagreed somewhat with the assessment of his peer, as he sees nothing wrong with Leclerc and Bottas leaving the premises so long as they follow protocol upon re-entry into the environment, as he himself had to go to Italy for work – which Alfa Romeo’s Frederic Vasseur stated that is allowed to do so.

“There is clear rules that when you come in here, you need to be tested, so I don’t know what happened with Charles and Valtteri but maybe it’s a story on social media – but if they get checked in the beginning I think that’s OK and it’s quite clear what you have to do and what not to do here,” said Steiner.

“So, we all know that and what I’ve seen, all the people working in F1 are very disciplined. I think we try our best. For sure mistakes happen – always – but nobody’s trying to undermine the issue intentionally or try to be smart about it. I feel very safe here. If any of us get it here, I will be very surprised.”

The restrictions do complicate things, though, for power unit suppliers like Honda, as that particular manufacturer’s representative explained on Friday. “It is a little bit difficult for us to work separately but for our members to be safe, also teams safe, we completely follow the FIA direction, also team direction,” said Toyoharu Tanabe.

“Maybe the same as this conference, we use web meeting as much as we can and then we communicate between the two teams’ members. So far it’s worked well but definitely we keep working on our safety. That’s very important for us and then F1.”

Even for tyre supplier Pirelli, they have had to change their style of working and their teams’ engineers are bunched up together instead of working with the F1 outfits in the  respective garages. We instituted similar protocols to the teams, the difference is that we have people everywhere across the teams,” said Mario Isola.

“That is why we decided to keep a Pirelli bubble rather than allocating engineers inside a team bubble and thanks to the co-operation of the teams we now have an area that is dedicated to Pirelli. It is not easy to work like that because obviously without any access to the garage our engineers have no possibility to check the tyres and to take data and measurements.

“But it is necessary so we are happy to continue with this approach for as long as it is necessary to do that. We have to give a clear indication to our personnel but also to rely on individual responsibility because obviously that is the main point, strict protocols and procedures but explaining how important it is to follow these procedures, not just telling them you have to stay in your room at the hotel and that’s all, but to make them aware of the risks and consequences if they behave in not the way we want.”

In overall terms, F1 has undertaken nearly 10,000 tests across the two race weekends in Austria and have all come back as negative. It is a big win for the sport as together with the FIA, they have been successful largely to not let COVID-19 affect their work.

Meanwhile, over the weekend, news of stringent rules in Hungary was also spread with UK citizens and non-EU personnel subjected to a rule where they have to be inside their hotels and or at the track, if rule broken, they can be fined and or jailed.

Here’s the FIA note on COVID-19 conduct: https://www.fia.com/sites/default/files/appendix_s_to_the_isc_covid-19_code_of_conduct_fr-en_2020-06-19_final.pdf

Here’s news on FIA investigating move of two F1 drivers

Here’s FIA on sending letter in Austria