Wearing a face mask amid the heat and intensity of a Formula 1 garage will be the biggest challenge for team personnel from new coronavirus protocols, reckons Ferrari’s Laurent Mekies.
As teams gear up for the first race of the F1 season at the Austrian Grand Prix next weekend, a number of outfits have already run private tests to try to get used to a new way of working.
Although all competitors are braced for logistical difficulties and work to take longer because of social distancing requirements, Ferrari sporting director Mekies says it is adjusting to life with a mask that could prove to be the hardest thing.
“I think in a very basic way, the biggest challenge, especially for the guys in the garage, will be to wear a mask pretty much all the time,” said Mekies, when asked by Autosport about the difficulties teams will face.
“We have been starting to get used to it, and for all of us now it’s becoming a part of our normal life. Actually here in Ferrari it’s compulsory, so we wear it at all times in the factory and in the office.
“But it’s one thing to wear it in an office environment, it is something else to wear it when it will be 40 degrees and very hot at the racetrack. All credit to the medical and first response persons that are used to doing it and are wearing it on a regular basis every day of their working life.”
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Mekies said Ferrari had issued staff with advice on breathing exercises to help manage life with a mask, and the team would also ensure that there were suitable breaks slotted in away from the garage environment.
“We are trying to put in place a number of measures, in terms of breathing exercises and having some break to those guys, to do breathing exercises and to be keeping in the best possible shape.”
The requirement for masks, and the need for social distancing, is on top of special arrangements having been put in place to prevent team staff mingling with other outfits.
Furthermore, teams will have social bubbles within their own organisations, with staff from their two cars being separated as much as possible.
Mekies was clear, however, that if the need came up for team personnel to try to help a job on the other car – such as a late engine change or car repair – then that would still happen.
“It’s not a regulation, so you are not forced into this bubble,” he said. “You are forced into operating your team as a bubble. And the fact that we do a sub bubble inside it, is our responsibility.
“We will be as resilient as possible in case of a positive case, so depending on how we design our bubble, we will limit the operations, and the contact between the people.
“We will be trying to design it in a way that doesn’t affect the operations. So in the case we need to [make a quick engine change] we can perfectly do it. What it means is that as a team, we will be a bit less resilient, in case one of these persons will be unfortunately positive in the same process. But it’s a decision that we can take in autonomy.”
Mekies added that any urgent work which meant staff had to get close to each other would not compromise safety.
“I think this is not going to be a player at all,” he said. “Whenever or wherever you will not be able to have distances, you will have to wear the mask anyway. And therefore, at that stage, we will do what we need to do in the safest possible way.
“So there will be no temptation or incentives to drop any of these [safety measures] because it will be the norm.”