Mercedes’ confidence in Formula 1’s coronavirus safety protocols has been boosted by its two-day test at Silverstone this week, as Lewis Hamilton returned to track action on Wednesday.
The world championship winning team has concluded its private preparations for the season-opening Austrian Grand Prix next month, with Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas driving the 2018 car.
Mercedes undertook two days of running at Silverstone to practice the use of social distancing, protective equipment and any restrictions stipulated for race weekends once the 2020 season finally begins following the hiatus caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
It marked the first time Hamilton and Bottas drove an F1 car since testing at Barcelona ended on February 28, more than three months ago.
But the main purpose was for Mercedes to become used to the safety provisions, minimise the impact on working practices, and generally gain valuable insight into how running the car will work amid the complex safety measures that are necessary for the season to begin.
Mercedes’ trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin said the race team and drivers were used to make sure “all the procedures in order to prevent any risk of transmitting the virus can work with our operating the race car, which we’ll have to do when we get racing”.
“You’ll see a lot of people wearing masks, we’re doing that on any occasion we can’t maintain a two-metre distance,” said Shovlin.
“But also in and around the garage we’ve got everyone separate now so there’s good space in between them.
“The difficult bit is on the car when the mechanics are there doing the turnaround.
“That’s when it’s probably hardest to keep that gap between everyone.
“Coming here everyone got tested. The race team at the moment doesn’t have anyone with the virus.
“So we’re quite confident with those procedures we can keep the team safe, and the sport can continue, and we’ll have some successful races come next month.”
One of Hamilton’s aspiring rivals for the coming season, Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc, also returned to the track on Wednesday.
Leclerc drove a shifter kart at the South Garda circuit in Italy.
His Ferrari team is reported to be planning a private test similar to Mercedes’ later this month, for both Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel.
It is unclear how many teams will have been able to conduct real-world practice within the new safety protocols by July’s Austrian GP.
But McLaren and Williams have confirmed they are not planning to run an old F1 car.
F1 will have strict measures to adhere to when the season begins in Austria, with charter planes being arranged, a limit on race team personnel, and teams having to operate in “bubbles” to minimise fraternisation.
Personnel will also be tested for coronavirus before travelling, and then every two days after arrival.
It is part of a “biosphere” plan created by F1 and the FIA to minimise the spread of the virus inside the paddock and reduce the chance of impacting the local community.
That plan also means the season will begin with two races at the Red Bull Ring, to avoid too much travelling by F1 personnel.