Graham Watson, the Team Manager at Scuderia AlphaTauri Honda, says everyone learned a lot throughout the 2020 Formula 1 season with regards to coronavirus, with many things being adapted ahead of the 2021 campaign.
Prior to 2020, Watson says that no-one really knew anything about COVID-19 or its consequences, but the troubled year opened many people’s eyes, and now it feels more like an everyday occurrence.
AlphaTauri, as well as the other nine teams on the grid, were all forced to change the way they worked to ensure they limited the potential of COVID-19 spreading around the factory or paddock, and Watson says similar plans are set for the 2021 season that begins next month.
“In 2020 we learnt a tremendous amount about how to handle all the risks faced during the pandemic and how best to keep our staff safe while traveling around the world – we started the year not knowing what COVID was and now it’s something we live with every day,” said Watson at the launch of AlphaTauri’s 2021 challenger, the AT02, last week.
“As a team, we have developed a specific COVID action plan – that we continue to revise with our ongoing learnings – and we’ll carry this over into the 2021 season. We’ve had several logistical obstacles to overcome, particularly around catering and the garage, as well as how we get to the track, but we now understand how to work round these challenges for the 2021 season.
“We tried to ensure that the necessary social distance was always maintained by our staff, even if they were in the same bubble. Likewise, we have avoided commercial flights, to ensure that we can maintain social distancing measures whilst travelling.
“One other lesson we learned, in terms of running a Formula 1 team, is that it takes more than one person to manage the situation, due to the additional volume of work involved. We know all the processes now for 2021 and so one member of staff has been appointed the role of ‘COVID Planner’ to ensure that all protocols are correctly adhered to.
“Having the support network in place within our company has helped enormously and allowed us to continue racing within a safe environment.”
Watson says it is his priority as Team Manager to ensure the health of the team members, and COVID-19 limitations made it a much more difficult job than it was pre-coronavirus, particularly when it came to working on the car.
“The main priority for me as Team Manager is to preserve the health of all team members, this was my focus last year and it will continue to be so this season,” he said. “In normal times, without COVID, we have lots of people working in small spaces and it can be a challenge to remain socially distanced.
“This is especially true in the garage, where we have people working on the car, under strict time pressures, so a large part of my job was finding ways to manage this without stopping the team remaining competitive.
“The reality is that going racing under these conditions becomes more tiring – the additional PPE and restrictions can make the job more difficult, but everyone understands the importance of why these protocols need to be followed.”
“A condensed calendar was always going to be tiring”
Watson praised Formula One Management (FOM) for achieving seventeen races in 2020 despite the pandemic, even though the year was condensed and tiring for everyone involved.
“Formula 1 Management and the FIA did an incredible job of getting 17 races organised in such a short amount of time and with so many logistical issues – it really is a testament to the championship and everyone that works within it that we were able to put on such an incredible global show despite the pandemic,” said Watson.
“Yes, there were challenges – and a condensed calendar was always going to be tiring, especially with triple headers – but racing is what we get out of bed for each day and I’m just happy we managed to complete a full season whilst other sports couldn’t.”
Watson says there are contingency plans should anyone within the team contract COVID-19, and they head into the new campaign with options should someone be forced to miss an event.
“Luckily in 2020 we didn’t have many cases of COVID, however we have put more measures in place should we have some cases this season, including increasing our ability to replace any race critical members of staff,” commented Watson.
“We need to have more support waiting in the wings, therefore, in our pre-season pit stop training we have been using a range of people to give everyone the correct experience, should they need to be called up for the race team.
“The human aspect of keeping the team running is vital and it is important to keep the team morale high. COVID has changed the landscape of the sport however I believe the championship has coped extremely well with managing the complexities of the pandemic and has continued to bring some great entertainment to the fans at home.”