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Paul Hembery’s 2020 Formula One Review – Not!

With the recent spread of the coronavirus, COVID-19, the world has been thrown into uncertainty. And with worldwide governments moving to a ‘delay phase,’ many large events have been cancelled. Paul Hembery, (Pablo) ULU founder and former executive director of Pirelli is a household name within the motorsport world. In this article, Paul Hembery gives his thoughts about how the Formula One industry should be responding to this crisis.


A note from Paul Hembery…

I had originally written an article before the Formula One season started. But of course the world is currently finding itself in increasingly extreme conditions due to COVID-19 coronavirus. This means anything that was planned or indicated before the cancellation of the Melbourne Grand Prix is really now superfluous.

It is also clear that with the cancellation of subsequent races in Bahrain and China and almost certainly Vietnam, Formula One is finding itself in a very new scenario.

Due to my career history, I’ve received a lot of recent questions about my take on this. Especially about whether or not I agree with the cancellations. Not just in the motorsport industry, but the sporting world in general.

It is always difficult for people to make tough decisions when it comes to event cancellations. Of course, with any cancellation comes significant commercial and financial impacts. However, the reality is that sport does not supersede other more important issues in the world or in life. In these situations, the health and safety of all is paramount – from the fans to the drivers, and the teams. In fact, this applies to all of the people involved in creating the show that his Formula One. So, it is now time to return home and rethink the scenario.

While hindsight is a wonderful thing, it was rather curious that Formula One had even ventured to Australia. Especially as Australia is well-known for its very extreme control of incoming viruses and diseases. Already, two weeks ago there were indications that the virus was gaining a significant hold in many countries. Not least Italy, where there are two Formula One teams and one of the major suppliers to the sport. In this instance, the decision to travel seemed not brave, but rather short-sighted.

Many will no doubt be writing about the process of the cancellations and what could’ve been done better. However, the main issue now facing Formula One is to find a clear and transparent direction for the remainder of the season. The clear indications coming from Europe and the USA is that the virus will only gain in intensity. Many reports show that the coronavirus will not reach its peak for another 10 to 12 weeks. This puts the peak at some time around the end of June.  Based on this information, the most sensible course of action for Formula One, following other sports, would be to cancel the season up until the midyear, the midseason break.

This is an extreme action of course! However, indecision will only increase uncertainty and risk. Formula One teams are made up of unusually strong international team members. And these members are used to travelling and mingling with many cultures and people. This makes for a pretty high-risk group. So, as with the rest of the population, at this time it is far more important that they have the ability to be around their family and focus on their health. There will undoubtedly be an increase in the need for self-isolation to reduce the potential spread further of the disease. And Formula One teams should be no exception to this.

That decision in itself is an easy decision, because it is based on good medical guidance. The difficulty for Formula One, and indeed the rest of the world, is the financial consequences of the coronavirus. The business model of Formula One relies on television income, hosting fees, and sponsorship. The lack of events and the lack of something to sell to the broadcasters means there will be a substantial drop in income. There will also be a substantial impact on the finances of teams, as well as to Liberty the rights holder. There may well be specialist types of insurance cover that will lessen the blow. But of course, something like a virus is often deemed a natural disaster or ‘force majeure.’ Something which is often beyond the scope of a number of insurance policies. 

The costs of running a Formula One team are immense. Some of those costs are variable costs related to the number of races and the changes during the development of the cars.  However, there is also an ongoing fixed-cost spend to support the structures of salaried employees. These are the issues that are facing every business across the world today. The impact of stopping or reducing business is going to have significant economic impact on the running of the economy. And this includes Formula One teams and employees. After the welfare of the Formula One community is settled within the limitations every person is living with, the thoughts will turn to financial survival. 

I sincerely hope that the leaders of Formula One now make a very clear decision as to what is happening for the season. It is essential in situations of turbulence to provide the strongest guidance and leadership. It is time to dispel panic and provide clarity. Only then can the Formula One community start to address together the financial implications of such an unprecedented situation. It is going to require an exceptional effort from everyone. 

So, rather than give what was meant to be my impression or view of how the Formula One season will evolve in 2020, which rather feels superfluous at this moment in time, I just want to wish all of the fans and members of the Formula One community a safe return home to their friends and family. 

In the grand scheme of things, driving around in circles is really not that important right now. 



For more content from Paul Hembery, read his article about living and working in an age of anxiety.

For more sports-related content from our community, ULU Nation, read our blog about avid cyclist, Tom Corbet.

If you’re struggling with mental health during lockdown, read this handy blog: Coronavirus: Guidance for Better Mental Health

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