Formula 1 is currently working to a draft calendar of up to 18 races in 24 weeks. While I suspect this is a best-case scenario and we can expect a few of these races at least to fall by the wayside, that does raise the question of whether it is asking too much of team personnel if all these races happen and in such a short time frame.
It certainly would be heavy going for those working on the cars, so I imagine the teams would have to rotate staff. Firstly, they could cut back from 60 to, say, 50 operational personnel at a race. Then you could partially rotate the crews between races, which would also help with travel.
You couldn’t do this with every position, but it would work for a certain number of them. You could leave some of the more engineering-analysis focused people working from base to get down to that 50 number.
If one race is one group and the next race another, that minimises the impact. You’d still have key personnel like the race engineer and number one mechanic at every race, but could swap around the number two mechanic and a few other positions.
It depends exactly what team staff are skilled in but there are understudies for a lot of positions and what might be called ‘spare’ race team personnel. Even if you only have 20-25 in the group that changes over, that’s lightening the load for a lot of people.
For a three-day event, the hard work starts on Thursday morning, so in reality it becomes a four-day weekend. That only leaves you three days from the end of one meeting to get to the next one, which is possible but offers no time to waste.
Between the European races the longest distance is roughly 1200 miles so it would be possible to travel by road in coaches to avoid the problems that are going to be around airports.
Two-day events will help. We don’t know how many would be cut back, but for the early races – back-to-back F1 grands prix in Austria then Britain/Germany – it would make sense to make the second of each just a two-day event and this would be a good experiment as to how it works.
This doesn’t make it that much easier for personnel as you still have to cram more work into those two days, but it is a small help and even more importantly it will reduce the cost for the teams as they will be doing less mileage.
You do have to strike a balance when it comes to looking after personnel. When I look back to the 1970s, about eight of us used to jump into a blue diesel Transit van, get there on the Wednesday night, get the cars ready on Thursday after the truck had arrived and then you were lucky if you got to bed at all from Friday morning until Sunday night.
You didn’t have all the pre-built sub assemblies, so you had to go in the truck and build parts up and that created a lot more work for a smaller number of people. It was a different world and you had to put up with it. That doesn’t mean everyone should be working 24/7 all the time, but it shows what can be done.
The curfew is a good thing to protect staff but if grand prix events are being held in a condensed time with fewer people then it maybe has to be a shorter curfew. It can’t be removed completely but should allow people to work a bit later and longer if needed.
You have to be aware of the demands on people, but you don’t want to mollycoddle them more than necessary. Everyone in Formula 1 knows how serious this situation is and this isn’t a workload that’s going to be permanent – it’s in unprecedented circumstances and should help to save jobs and ensure teams can survive. There has to be a willingness to put in some extra effort.
But F1 teams have to be aware of the personal situations of their staff and listen to what they can and cannot do without resorting to threatening them. Some are young, free and single and can be away for six months but others have family and other personal demands that need to be balanced. Everyone will have different compromises.
I would allow personnel to lay out concerns that they have and what they can and cannot do, then fit them in based on that. It might be the case that someone who can’t be away almost continuously can be moved into a factory role for the second half of the year, or if they can only do some of the races they may be part of the rotation that I suggested.
If any teams do treat staff unfairly when they are asking so much of them, then I hope that they would blow the whistle publicly if their jobs are being threatened by unreasonable demands because F1 teams should look after their staff. This situation is about flexibility.
I don’t think it’s too much to ask to make the proposed calendar work provided allowances are made where needed. It would be different if this was going to become normal for every season but this is a one-off situation and people need to be willing to roll up their sleeves and get on with it. And most will be happy to do just that.
You could then have a shutdown over the winter, even if it’s just for race team personnel, to pay them back for that effort and ensure they have time at home to recover and get on with their lives when the season has ended.