1-spa francorchamps eau rouge formula 1 track

Red Mist: (When) will Formula 1 race again?

Someone asked me this morning, “When will Formula 1 race again?” Like thirty other people did in the couple of past weeks. The pause was pregnant. My retort today was very different to most. And for very good reason… “Will F1 race again?”

Rollback eighty years – before the FIA F1 World Championship became the thing – and there were nineteen Grands Prix in 1939.

Mercedes drivers Rudolf Caracciola and Hermann Lang won the Swiss Grands and German Grands Prix driving W154s and Tazio Nuvolari took his Auto Union C to victory in Yugoslavia, to close off the glorious ‘Golden Era’ that ran from 1918 to ’39.

The Bathurst 100 was the last of three international races to run in 1940 before hostilities brought an end to all international motorsport in the face of World War 2.

Last year you may recall that Mercedes drivers Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton won the United States and Abu Dhabi Grands Prix in their W10s, each side of Max Verstappen taking his Red Bull Honda to Brazilian Grand Prix victory.

And the only international circuit race I have reported on so far this year is the Bathurst 12-hour.

Are the hairs on the back of your neck standing up yet?

I can’t tell you when it will all start again, but what I can tell you is that 80 years ago, racing did not happen again until a couple of late-‘45 ‘Coupe de la Libération’ Grands Prix won by Henri Louveau in a Maserati and Jean-Pierre Wimille’s Bugatti. And it was not until April 1946 that racing started in earnest again when Gigi Villoresi’s Maserati won the Grand Prix of Nice.

There were no works teams, the machinery was generally mid-‘30s Alfa Romeos, Maseratis, Bugattis and ERAs and it two or three years for any new cars to arrive on the scene. It was only in 1950 when things started to work as they once were again on the advent of Formula 1.

So no, if you ask me when we will race again, I will ask you straight back, will we race again? And it’s not just because of the astounding coincidences above. Like you, tonight my country goes into lockdown.

They say for three weeks and we all really pray that it will be so, but will our prayers be answered? How long will humanity still need to hide from ourselves?

In the mornings I no longer look at the weather forecast and the financial indicators before sipping a cup of rooibos while doing Target and the crosswords — no, I go to see yesterday’s Covid-19 death toll and the total tally (21284 so far and a tragic 2390 yesterday and counting) and I think to myself, how the hell is this going to go on for? Who knows? We all care.

Beyond the devastation of death, the economic impact is going to be horrible too. Billions of people face ruin across the globe, so does it really matter if or when we race round in circles again?

And when we do race again, will there be room for thousand-man teams blowing billion-buck budgets having fun? Let alone soccer players being bartered for that money, golfers, boxers and the rest? Think about that for a second. And draw your own conclusions.

Yes, we will race again, so will we play football and rugby, golf, cricket and the Olympics will happen sometime in the future.

But the second Golden Era is likely over and I expect things to be very different once we eventually get out, stretch our legs and are ready to race again.