The disruptions caused by current shutdowns reach into every corner of the racing industry. RACER.com is sharing stories of how different entities in the sport are tackling these unprecedented challenges in a special series called The Lockdown Diaries.
Formula 1 gave ignoring COVID-19 a really good go and got as far as the morning of first practice for the Australian Grand Prix before finally admitting it had made a mistake. That meant packing up for the teams and suppliers, including one that quite literally keeps the wheels turning in the form of Pirelli.
“It’s been mainly a question of waiting for more information, but we understand that it won’t be instant,” Pirelli head of F1 and car racing Mario Isola told RACER. “Nonetheless, we are following developments closely and planning as much as we can to best prepare carefully for the moment when there is a bit more clarity.”
The clarity in Melbourne came so last-minute that tires were ready for all the teams, and that meant they couldn’t be re-used but Isola says the product has not gone to waste.
“The F1 tires that were taken to Australia were recycled, as it’s not safe to re-use them once they have been fitted to a rim and then removed. But we’ve halted production for the other races until we know if and when they are taking place, while existing tires that haven’t yet been put onto rims can be carefully stored and then used later.
“We have some tires that are already in Bahrain and Vietnam and they can be kept there in temperature-controlled containers until the races happen, so they won’t suffer.”
As his job title suggests, Isola is not only overseeing Pirelli’s work in Formula 1, and is having to manage the impact on multiple championships, including trying to have everything ready for any events still scheduled to take place.
“It’s fair to say that the pandemic has affected nearly all of our competition activities: racing, rallying and bikes as well. Of course there are still some events that haven’t been called off (for now) such as Rally Portugal in May, and we are preparing as normal for those.”
But with Italy one of the worst-hit countries — registering the highest number of deaths due to coronavirus in the world — much of the country is on lockdown. While Pirelli has manufacturing facilities elsewhere outside of Italy, that is having an impact on the way the company is having to operate.
“For now, everyone in Italy has been asked to work from home, as is the case for many other countries too, so we are trying to carry on our usual business in a way that is as close to normal as possible, with videoconferencing and so on. While it’s obviously not ideal, we can still work effectively.”
There remains huge uncertainty over how long the pandemic will last, with different countries at different stages. That has a significant impact on Pirelli, because while one championship might be ready to start up more quickly due to its race locations, others might be on hold for a while longer.
“It’s a bit of both in terms of being proactive and having to wait, really. We’re mainly waiting for more information about a revised calendar, but we are also actively planning different scenarios so that we can work quickly and efficiently with that information whenever it arrives.
“When it comes to Formula 1, we take our lead from the FIA and from F1 themselves (the sport’s promoter) who we are regularly in contact with.”
That means Pirelli’s main focus since entering the lockdown on racing has been to be ready for any information regarding a start date, and Isola believes the tire manufacturer can react “quite quickly,” even if multiple categories end up restarting at the same time.
“Once the new calendar is available, we will make another production and logistics plan in order to be ready to supply the tires for the revised dates. Logistics in F1 is quite a complicated area as it is, so we will need to make an extra effort this year. Also, our travel department will have to rearrange flights and hotels for the 55 to 60 people attending each event for us, and the same challenges apply for F2 and F3, which we also supply exclusively. So we definitely have our work cut out now, but it’s nobody’s fault and in the end, everyone is in the same situation.”