At a time when the world faces a challenging and unprecedented situation due to the outbreak of COVID-19, we hear from McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown and McLaren F1 Team Principal Andreas Seidl on how the team is navigating the uncharted waters that we all find ourselves in.
Firstly, talk us through the process last week that led to McLaren withdrawing from the race, how did you reach that decision?
Zak Brown: Even though we’re all racers and we were looking forward to hitting the track, it was an easy decision to make. Protecting the wellbeing of our team is always the number one priority. We have a duty of care to our people, fans and wider F1 stakeholders, and that’s why we informed Formula 1 and the FIA of our withdrawal shortly after hearing on the Thursday night that a member of the team had tested positive.
How are the team members that remained in quarantine in Australia, including the individual that tested positive?
Andreas Seidl: They’re doing well, I stayed out with them for a couple of extra days and some senior members of the team are still there with them. All the team members who had been tested as a precaution tested negative, which is fantastic news. The person that had tested positive is now feeling well and we look forward to welcoming everyone back to the UK this week.
What impact does the postponement of the opening races of the season have on the team and the wider season?
ZB: We support the decision to postpone the opening races of the season and, unfortunately, also the need to wait until 2021 to take to the streets of Monte Carlo. This unprecedented situation is constantly changing, but we will adapt to overcome the challenges it presents. Ultimately, nothing is more important than the health of the team, our fans and the wider F1 community. Our priority remains, and always will be, the health and wellbeing of everyone involved.
How else can we expect the season to change, what impact will summer shutdown being moved have?
AS: Last week we agreed with Formula 1, the FIA and the other F1 teams that we will extend the summer shutdown to three weeks and bring it forward to March and April. We are reacting as quickly as possible to the changing situation and the advice from the UK government, and therefore at McLaren, our shutdown period will be from Wednesday 25 March to Tuesday 14 April 2020 inclusive. In addition to reducing financial pressure, a synchronised shutdown among all teams is not only a logical way to safeguard the wellbeing of our people and prevent the spread of COVID-19, but it also provides the opportunity to reschedule postponed races from August and beyond and give fans a spectacular summer of racing.
Have you been supportive of the changes that have been made so far?
ZB: Absolutely, we’ve been totally supportive of these changes and have a proactive role in implementing them. Together with the FIA, Formula 1 and the other teams, we’ve been proposing a number of ideas that help to protect the sport we all love while keeping our team, fans and wider F1 community safe. We have a huge responsibility not only to our people, but the wider F1 community, and as custodians of the sport it is essential we work together to overcome the challenges we face.
Can you elaborate on the decision to postpone the 2021 technical regulations until 2022 – why is it the right decision for F1 and what impact will this have on the team?
AS: From the outset, we have been a leading supporter of the new sporting and technical regulations for 2021. They present the opportunity to deliver an exciting new era for Formula 1. Nevertheless, there is no escaping the severity of the pressures faced by the sport right now. In the same way that decision to introduce the new regulations was aimed at improving the long-term health of Formula 1, the decision to postpone them has been made in the same vein.
We support the postponement and have played an active part in the conversation around doing so. We recognise that it is crucial to protect the financial health of all the teams while ensuring a level playing field when we do go racing. Furthermore, this decision does not impact our change to Mercedes power units in 2021, and we will be allowed to make the necessary changes to our car to accommodate this.
What is the team focusing on at this time?
AS: Currently, the key focus for everyone in the team is on staying safe. Prior to shutdown, much of the team are working from home, with only critical staff working in the factory on split shift working schedules. This enables us to be ready to go racing again as soon as we can, while minimising the risk to our team. We all want to go racing and we carry that passion with us whatever our working arrangements are. The effort doesn’t stop, we just make sure that we are working in a safe manner.
What are the drivers doing at this time?
AS: Like the team, the drivers are focused on staying ready to go racing again. You may have seen on Carlos' social media channels that he has been hitting the gym a lot, keeping his fitness up as much as possible while at home in Spain – another country that has been hit hard by COVID-19 and serves to underline how the challenges we collectively face span beyond borders. Lando has been keeping his race craft sharp by battling with the likes of Max Verstappen, and some of the best esports racers in the world, via sim racing. I strongly recommend you check out his channels, so you can watch his livestreams.
Is there a role for F1 to play in tackling this virus?
ZB: All the teams on the grid are high-technology engineers and manufacturers with strong capabilities in producing prototype equipment in a short space of time. We, along with other teams and UK-based companies, are in conversation with the British Government on how we can support with the manufacture of critical life-saving equipment, such as ventilators. We recognise that we have a part to play in addressing this crisis that goes way beyond motorsport. We have an obligation to society to help wherever we can.
Finally, what message would you like to give the team and fans?
ZB: Andreas and I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the hard-working men and women in the team for their determination and commitment at this difficult time. We also want to praise the superb leadership and composure that has shone so brightly, both out in Australia and back at base in Woking. The brilliance and bravery of our people never ceases to amaze us, and we are incredibly proud to work with each and every one of you.
We also want to thank our fantastic partners for their support and understanding during this period and, finally, say a very special thank you to our loyal fans around the world. While we cannot say when this trying period will end, we can assure you that McLaren will be your constant amidst great uncertainty. We will continue to excite and inspire you with the energy, ingenuity and passion that lies at the heart of everything we do. We’ll be ready to race again as soon as the situation improves and Formula 1 gets the green light. We’re all committed to bringing our fans a great 2020 season.
These are incredibly challenging times for everyone, but by working together we can, and will, overcome them to go racing again.
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