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.
“First of all, dealing with the current pandemic has to be the main priority right now and is far more important than motor sport. All we can do is hope that this difficult time will pass and only when it is completely safe to do so can we consider a return to racing.”
Honda was one of the more outspoken entities in Formula 1 when the Australian Grand Prix was called off; the Japanese manufacturer stating that the cancellation of racing was “the only logical option” once the coronavirus outbreak was declared a pandemic.
While most F1 teams have one central factory, or an associated power unit department that is located relatively close by, Honda’s set-up has a Milton Keynes satellite base as well as its Sakura headquarters some 6000 miles away, making for an even tougher juggling act between evolving situations on different continents.
“The bulk of the work following the Friday announcement that the first race was cancelled was logistical,” F1 technical director Toyoharu Tanabe tells RACER. “We had to get the personnel, PU and all the equipment back to the UK and Japan. Some of the team were switched onto new flights, while others stuck to the original plan, heading home on Sunday night or Monday.
“Honda made the decision that every member of the race team would have to self-isolate for two weeks from the date of return to either the UK or Japan, and those people are currently working from home.
“Apart from the logistic side, as soon as we found out that Australia was called off, we began drawing up a revised work plan with our engineers in Japan, taking into consideration various possible scenarios for the near future.”
As if it’s own split set-up wasn’t enough to deal with, Honda also has a pair of teams it supplies that are located in two different – and badly-hit – countries, with Red Bull’s headquarters in Milton Keynes and AlphaTauri in Faenza, Italy. But the distance actually means the power unit manufacturer is now leaning more heavily on communication methods it already has to use.
“We are still in regular contact with Red Bull Racing, Scuderia AlphaTauri and Red Bull Technology,” says Tanabe. “However, this is now mainly by conference call, emails etc rather than through face-to-face contact.”
A number of teams are now entering a mandatory shutdown period, something that doesn’t apply to power unit manufacturers. While Honda is taking its lead from F1 and the FIA during the uncertain period, Tanabe admits it could be facing restrictions for a longer period of time due to the different locations it has headquarters in.
“On the logistics side, it’s not possible to be proactive in a situation like this, because at the moment, no one knows when racing will resume. However, we now know that the first eight races on the calendar are either postponed or cancelled, and so we can now plan accordingly.
“The FIA and the Commercial Rights Holder keep us informed and they are in constant contact with promoters, governments and other stakeholders. For now, like all the teams and those involved in the sport, all we can do is wait and see what will happen to the calendar.
“The unique difficulty Honda faces, when compared to other teams based entirely in Europe, is the fact that with bases in two countries, the UK and Japan, it has to follow two different sets of guidelines relating to the different restrictions imposed by the relevant governments in light of the pandemic, which is at different levels in the two countries.”
Regardless of those challenges, Tanabe believes F1 as a whole is a sport that is geared up to be responsive to different scenarios, so he has no concerns about Honda’s ability to get ready to hit the track again at potentially short notice.
“Even in a normal season, in F1 you always have to be ready to react very quickly, in terms of technical work and logistics,” he says. “So once we get the green light to go racing again, we will be ready for it.”