Tests every five days, masks worn on the pit wall and in the garage, no sponsors and no fans, but Christian Horner insists his Red Bull team are ready to go
- Christian Horner says that his Red Bull team are ready to return to F1 action
- Staff and athletes will be required to take a coronavirus test every five days
- Horner says that their technical director was ‘crying’ from having a Covid-19 test
- Everyone will also be required to wear masks in the pit wall and the garage
Formula One is synonymous with glamour and high-speed jinks. But the harder post-Covid reality was written all over the face of the man who had just had a piece of testing kit stuck up his nose.
So how bad, I asked Red Bull team principal Christian Horner, is the coronavirus test?
‘I’ve had more pleasant experiences,’ said the 46-year-old Englishman. ‘Our technical director appeared in front of me crying, so I knew it wasn’t going to be good.’ This is the new regimen by which the sport is ensuring it can get going in Spielberg, Austria, next weekend, albeit without fans.
Christian Horner says that his Red Bull team are ready to return to Formula One action
This is after the party stopped in Melbourne on March 13, the day scheduled for the first practice session of the season. The travelling circus flew back without a wheel turned, the futile expense as eye-watering as a swab rammed up your hooter.
The sport’s factories were shut, which at least saved on bills while racing was suspended. Horner spent the time conducting team affairs from his Oxfordshire pad with Spice Girl wife Geri Halliwell, her daughter Bluebell, 14, their son Montague, three, and the family’s Westie, Flav.
During the lull, he and the rest of F1’s high-rollers thrashed out its pared-down future. The resulting budget cap for next year of some £130million, and decreasing, to save the smaller teams from extinction is an example of rare compromise among the ultra-competitive denizens of this enclosed world.
For Horner — who is backing his fearless Dutch pugilist Max Verstappen to wobble Lewis Hamilton’s throne — coronavirus called on him to react fast.
Team members have to wear masks on the pit wall and in the garage as part of new rules
‘We got back from Australia and had about 10 days in the factory before lockdown came in and we had to run it all remotely,’ he said. ‘Formula One teams are so protective about their IP (intellectual property — that is to say, their secrets) that we only ever had a maximum of 15 people with remote access to our servers. But within a couple of days we had between 350 and 400 all working remotely.
‘It turned out to be for three months. It was very busy, but we wanted to make sure we kept a sense of team: whether that was online fitness sessions or pub quizzes on Friday nights.
‘I did a few “town hall meetings”, where I’d update the workforce on what was going on and they could ask questions. We got the drivers to do some Q&As to maintain an engagement with the staff.
‘I got fully involved in the workouts — 7.30am starts — and I am probably the fittest I have been for 20 years.’
Esprit de corps has been central to the Red Bull ethos since they arrived on the scene as the fun team back in 2005. Horner, then 31, was the youngest team principal in a cabal that was still worthy of its soubriquet, the Piranha Club.
Dress rehearsal: Alex Albon gets behind the wheel as Red Bull prepare for season’s resumption
The team’s high days were between 2010 and 2013, when they registered four drivers’ titles through Sebastian Vettel and as many constructors’ titles. Then came the Mercedes years of unbroken monopoly.
This coming season is a mould-breaker before it starts, and that offers hope, born of unpredictability, to Horner and his star men, Verstappen and London-born Thai Alex Albon. So far the redrawn calendar goes Austria, Austria (both at the Red Bull Ring), Hungary, Britain, Britain, Spain, Belgium, Italy — eight races in 10 breathless weekends.
The rest of the schedule is unconfirmed, but it looks likely that the ninth grand prix will also be in Italy, at Mugello, and then it is on to Portimao in the centre of the Brit-abroad Algarve, followed by Russia, two rounds in China, possibly Canada, and finally one or two races in each of Bahrain and Abu Dhabi. All by mid-December, virus permitting. Eight races are required for a World Championship to count, 15 for F1 owners Liberty Media to pocket their full Sky TV money.
‘I have no reservations about us starting up again,’ said Horner. ‘Next week’s race will be the first major international sports event, and that is a healthy thing.
Albon pictured driving round the track at Silverstone Circuit earlier on this week
‘We are being medically tested every five days and are keeping staff safe, above and beyond the current Covid regulations in place in the countries we are travelling to. The number of personnel going to races is reduced to 80 per team.
‘We will stay as a unit in separate hotels — unique bubbles. There is no hospitality, no sponsors, not a lot of media.
‘We will wear masks on the pit wall and in the garage. We were practising that at Silverstone last week. It feels a bit intrusive but it is the new norm for now.’
And an on-track prediction? ‘Well, drivers don’t like being caged up, so they will be raring to go,’ said Horner. ‘Lewis is still the favourite. Mercedes came out of winter testing still on top.
Horner is backing Dutch pugilist Max Verstappen to wobble F1 star Lewis Hamilton’s throne
‘But it is all about how much development we can get on the car between Melbourne and now, and then to the end of the season. It’s a different year. Intense.
‘We don’t know how long it will be in the end, so reliability will be important. We will have to maximise every single grand prix.
‘But Red Bull have always been good at adjusting to adverse conditions and adapting quickly. If we give Max the tools, he can do the job.
‘He came into pre-season on the back of a great end to 2019. He is the one man on the grid who has what’s needed to take on Lewis and beat him.
‘Any top sportsman must have self-belief. As well as great natural ability, Max has that inner confidence, and that should make it an interesting season, at last.’
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