Resilience And Adaptation: How Motorsport Responded To A Covid-19 Enforced Break

With NASCAR already back on the grid in the US, and Formula 1 preparing to return in early July, the world of live motorsport is edging back to normality. But, as James Flude,  Account Manager, CSM Sport and Entertainment,  writes , the lack of on-track action over the past few months did not result in off-track inaction. 

The late, great Sir Stirling Moss once said that “to achieve anything in this game, you must be prepared to dabble in the boundary of disaster”. 

His words were about safety in motorsport, but at a time of unprecedented global disruption, they could equally provide inspiration for how the motorsport world is adapting to find new methods of achievement.

When Formula 1’s season-opening Australian Grand Prix was cancelled in March, the sport was at the centre of a major global crisis. A positive coronavirus test within the paddock had seen the McLaren team withdraw from the Grand Prix, with the race itself called off just hours before cars were due to take to the track.

With cars in the pits across the world, and Formula 1 licking its wounds from the fiasco in Melbourne, motorsport could have been forgiven for taking an extended mid-season break. A chance to hibernate, protect self-interest and allow others to take control of the coronavirus pandemic before normal service is resumed. But in a sport that lives on the cutting edge, innovation remains everywhere.

Throughout this crisis, there have been standout stories of exceptional achievement from manufacturers and engineers within the field. The Mercedes AMG Formula 1 team partnered with University College London to create a pioneering ventilation device to aid patients with the virus that were struggling to breathe.

The reigning F1 world champions repurposed their entire facility in Brixworth, UK, to manufacture and distribute over 10,000 protective masks within the first month. The team also made the design and instructions available at no cost to governments, manufacturers, academics and health experts around the world. Within a week they had been shared with more than 1,300 teams in 25 countries.

Individuals have also played their part. BMW i Andretti Motorsport driver Alexander Sims used the spare time granted by the temporary suspension of the Formula E season to collect personal protection equipment stock from UK-based motorsport teams and deliver them to hospitals in need. 

Sims – alongside a substantial proportion of his professional colleagues – has also had his extra time consumed by the emergence of rights holder led esports competitions that have flourished during the pandemic.  

With cars off-track across the world, several championships have turned to innovative and technologically advanced ways to engage with their fans and to reinforce important government stay at home messaging. Formula 1, for instance, called upon famous friends such as England cricket star Ben Stokes and Argentinian footballer Sergio Aguero to race virtually alongside current drivers including Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen. 

Across the pond, US rights holders were also quick to adapt, with Indycar creating a six-race virtual championship that incorporated innovative concepts including virtual press conferences and trophy presentations, as well as an interactive driver autograph session where fans could ask drivers to virtually sign their favourite photos on twitter. 

The NTT Indycar Series partnered with the American Red Cross charity for the naming rights of the races, to bring awareness to the organisation and their efforts to encourage blood donations amid the pandemic.

On a similar note, the ABB Formula E championship announced a partnership with UNICEF to “use its platforms to raise awareness of UNICEF’s work to protect children against the effects of coronavirus”.

As part of this, the championship also turned to esports, creating an eight-week virtual championship that features the full 24-man grid going head-to-head in a race royale format every Saturday in partnership with the charity. The action is streamed live by official race broadcasters Eurosport, as well as on BBC platforms in the UK.

Each week this is preceded by a challenger grid that sees the world’s most astute sim drivers face-off against professional racers. The gamers are competing for the opportunity to drive a real-life Formula E car on track when racing resumes, further blending the boundaries between the gaming and racing worlds.

As live motorsport begins to return - first in the US with NASCAR, and to be followed shortly in July by Formula 1 - it is important that stakeholders of all shapes and sizes continue to make a difference and build on the achievements made while the action has been off-track. At a time when a greater race for society has emerged, motorsport can help to find ways to win it. 


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