What a difference a year makes. In 2019, on the Tuesday before the Etihad Airways Formula One Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the racing teams started arriving and getting the cars ready in a genial atmosphere at Yas Marina Circuit. Members of the media were able to wander freely around the pit lane and chat with the technicians carrying out their work, all amid the sounds of high-energy dance music.
That was pre-pandemic, though. This year, the construction process remains the same, but reporters and photographers will not be moving around and interacting in the same fashion. Masks among those onsite are evidently a necessity, and, even though it would be hard to quantify, they will be getting through a volume of hand sanitiser over the course of the week that will probably be measurable in gallons rather than any smaller unit.
Like last year, though, the 10 teams involved landed in Abu Dhabi six days ahead of the final race, fresh from the F1 season's penultimate race in Bahrain, in a fleet of planes, ships, and lorries, all loaded with racing essentials.
The logistics put you in mind of what is required to make your average container port function – more than 400 people using 70 forklift trucks are required to offload the equipment once it reaches Yas Island, while 600 vehicles are needed to move the gear to and from the circuit.
It’s not only about the equipment. As well as taking up 18 villas and 43 garages onsite, it is estimated the racing teams will go through 30,000 litres of drinks during race weekend, while more than 200 cylinders of gas and four tonnes of dry ice will be delivered. They’re trying to keep it atmospheric, evidently.
So the teams have arrived and are unloadin, but this is not the beginning of the process. Preparation for any Grand Prix takes days, pandemic or not. However, in these times of high alert over the possible spread of Covid-19, the cleaning process ahead of the racing has been a top priority, even when spectators won't be in attendance, save for 200 frontline workers per day.
Dedicated medical staff, maintenance crews, and technical experts have been at the track for several days already, and they will remain there over the course of the week, working to ensure the event runs as safely and seamlessly as possible.
The race will operate within what is being called the F1 biosphere, a secure bubble containing more than 3,000 people. Seven hotels on Yas Island will house those not in the villas, and they will be attended to by 1,100 hospitality staff.
Specifically with regard to the coronavirus, Abu Dhabi’s health services company Seha has allocated 62 medical personnel for the duration of the event, and they will work at 15 testing venues spread around the circuit. So far, even before things have really got going, staff have carried out an average of 420 tests per day since their arrival.
In fact, it is estimated a total of 12,000-plus tests will be conducted, which is an average of one every four minutes.
The Grand Prix’s local corporate sponsor Etihad Airways will also be providing 1,200 wellness kits for use over the course of the week, which will include hand sanitiser, face masks, gloves and snoods.
Covid-19 concerns aside, it will be an ongoing task for technicians and safety experts to inspect the circuit, checking everything from the placement and condition of crash barriers to making sure the tarmac is clean and clear. Medical teams and first responders are equipped and in place to deal with any emergency.
Those in the biosphere will be used to all the pandemic precautions by now. The lack of spectators will dent the atmosphere, even for those at home, but the prep has all been geared towards making all those watching remotely (which is everyone, pretty much) get the best possible experience when the cars finally get roaring later this week. Now, we’re just awaiting the arrival of the drivers.