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F1: Where to now?

It is just a month since I boarded a plane and headed to Melbourne for the opening race of the 2020 Formula 1 season, the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne.

The race did not happen and when we left the media centre in Melbourne that Friday we departed with cries of “See you after the summer break”.

It was obvious, even then, that the coronavirus problem was not something that would be solved in a few weeks and we have seen a total of nine races being postponed or cancelled.

It is not just about whether one country is free of the virus. Anything international is complicated.

In the circumstances, one can imagine that national championships will be the first thing to revive, which will give fans a fix of racing. Even if travel opens up again, the recession that is coming is going to impact on ticket sales and there is also likely to be a reluctance for people to congregate in large numbers.

It is realistic to suggest that more will follow with France (June 28), Austria (July 5), Great Britain (July 19) and Hungary (August 2) all in the firing line.

In Hungary, the parliament has given Prime Minister Viktor Orban the right to rule by decree indefinitely. There have been restrictions on reporting the virus and official numbers are very low, because very few tests are being done.

In Britain, from a sporting perspective, the All England Tennis Championships at Wimbledon, scheduled from June 29 to July 12 have been called off for the first time since World War II. How the British GP can happen against such a background is hard to imagine.

There are some positive things coming out of the virus, not last the efforts of some of motorsport companies to help redesigning and manufacturing medical equipment.

It may also result in fundamental changes in the way work and travel are viewed.

The impact on travel is perhaps the most interesting topic as people are rapidly learning how to use home-working technology and there is an argument that future infrastructure spending should perhaps be switched from upgrading transportation networks to making sure that every home has sufficient high-speed internet access.

There is still a need for people to visit offices, but many are finding that it is more efficient to not waste time commuting. This could lead to permanent changes in working habits. People are beginning to understand that flying or driving to meetings makes little sense.

Personally, I am very fortunate as I live in the countryside and I have a large garden, so I can get out and walk around and there is no shortage of things to do.

In fact, I am finding that my days are filled with projects. Without all the travel, my costs are low and having been on the road at this time of year for my entire professional career – which now runs to 37 years – I must say that the break has been quite therapeutic…

This was a developing trend before the virus came along, but Covid-19 has focussed the business world on what is possible.

How this will impact on different industries remains to be seen, but tourism is likely to reduce in the mid-term with people preferring not to travel too far away from home. If tourism suffers, it is logical to assume that in the longer term some sporting events will also struggle, because they exist primarily to attract visitors. With lower demand, then the fees that different sports can charge will also reduce.

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At the moment, some of the English teams are “furloughing” staff. This means that they are being sent home and told not to work.

The reason for this is that the government has introduced a Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme for companies which cannot maintain their current workforce because of Covid-19. The British-based teams can apply for grants that will cover 80 per cent of their usual monthly wage costs, up to $5000 a month.

This is designed to protect the UK economy and only applies to furloughs, so those who work for reduced pay are not eligible but teams can top-up their staff salaries in they choose.

This means that most of the teams will have the majority of their biggest cost, staff, paid by the government, which is extremely good news for them. Thus claims that teams might go out of business should be viewed with caution, as there are political agendas involved as teams discuss what budgetary measures should be introduced in the future.

The racing may have stopped, but F1 politics is still going on, with all the teams fighting from their own corners.

The virus has given everyone in the sport an opportunity to take a step back and look at F1 and see how it can be done better. It is an ongoing process but let us hope that the decisions that are made are in the best interest of the sport.

There is not much to write about in Formula 1 at the moment, but that does not seem to stop the F1 parasites and scavengers who live off the sport by churning out endless stories about what is wrong and how things are going to go pear-shaped. These stories are used by all kind of publications because it is easier and cheaper than going out and doing the job properly.

But these bottom-feeders were around years before any other nasty viruses arrived on the scene and will probably survive the Covid-19 outbreak as well.

However, it does mean that there is a general tone of negativity in the F1 media and this was highlighted recently by the reports about the credit rating agency Moody’s changing its outlook about Formula One to negative to reflect the impact of the crisis.

Anyone who read the entire Moody’s statement, could see the underlying message was not negative:

“Formula One has strong liquidity and a sufficiently flexible cost base to manage through a severely curtailed 2020 season, which Moody’s consider would likely be able to support a full cancellation,” it said.

“Moody’s considers that Formula One is relatively well placed to recover post coronavirus crisis, underpinned by its contracted revenue nature, strong franchise, large fan base and high cash conversion.”

Bernie Ecclestone’s remarks about cancelling the whole season were widely reported but I don’t see why it makes any sense. Ecclestone is no longer involved in the sport in anything but name, but he tends to take a pop at Liberty Media as and when it suits him.

Still, he will soon have other far more important things on his mind now he’s about to be a father again, shortly before his 90th birthday. So, we should all wish him well, although he probably needs to be careful about lifting babies at such an age.

And good luck with the school runs when he hits 100…

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