The braking point: Formula 1 at a crossroads

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The impact of the coronavirus has been so dramatic and immediate that I for one have found it difficult to fully comprehend its impact.

From a social, economic and sporting perspective, the effects will surely be seen for years to come and changes will likely occur that we can hardly predict. Formula 1 is only one part of this, but it is hard to tell at this stage how seriously the threat is being treated.

In public at least, the focus has very much been on salvaging the current season and while this is obviously a key concern in the short-term, the sport faces significant dangers going forward.

Perhaps the primary one is the health of the teams, who rely on a mixture of revenue from sponsors, prize money from Formula One Group and support from parent organisations. The survival of all 10 teams will be dependent on circumstances away from F1 as well as on track, where numerous businesses will be impacted, with the motoring industry facing particular challenges.

Reports are already suggesting that Groupe Renault are preparing to make drastic cuts despite receiving a significant loan from the French government, which could impact their commitment to F1. Meanwhile, Williams are facing a fight on two fronts, with rescue plans already in place prior to the pandemic’s outbreak at the financially-threatened team.

If the sport is to keep its current grid or attract new teams, costs need to come down across the board, with a cost cap merely the first piece of the jigsaw. Driver salaries, marketing efforts and travel expenses may all take a hit, while efforts to find efficiencies on the race side will be doubled. A sport that features across five continents and takes with it a showbiz circus may need to finally adapt.

A second key concern is that of the circuits and promoters. Only a small number of races are not dependent on spectators for funding and an extended break from supporters coming through the gates could put the future of some iconic races in doubt. Liberty Media appear to have taken steps to mitigate this impact in the short term, but this is surely not sustainable.

Coming back to the 2020 season and concerns remain. With the virus still very much a presence in most countries, no race can guarantee the safety of its competitors and teams, while the travel aspects creates further concern. Plans to hold two races at Silverstone now appear to be in jeopardy, while the goal of fitting so many races into such a short period of time should raise genuine concerns about the well-being of those involved.

As NASCAR has shown, as a pure spectacle, motor racing can be held behind closed doors with relative success and compares well to sports such as football. However, the extent to which these races can be held safely and regularly is not yet known. NASCAR also has the advantage of a lack of international travel, which presents a major obstacle for F1.

The desire among fans and organisers to get F1 going as soon as possible is understandable and the signs are looking as though a July race in Austria is possible. What is important though, is that the sport does not become blinkered in its approach and continues to follow prevailing wisdom and advice with regards to the virus. There should not be one rule for F1 and another rule for everything else and the continued cooperation and realism of FOM and the FIA is vital. Whichever way you look at this situation, F1 needs to make positive changes in order to safeguard its long-term future, regardless of how many races they manage in 2020.