Racing Point’s handling of Stroll’s Covid-19 test deserved a tougher response

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That the FIA’s Covid-19 Code of Conduct was not watertight was exposed by the conduct of Racing Point when its driver Lance Stroll – son of team boss Lawrence – tested positive for the virus away from the circuit, having displayed symptoms in the build-up to and during the Eifel Grand Prix weekend. However, rather than be tested on-site before flying home to Switzerland, the driver dodged around protocols to escape.

That said, when one considers the myriad national laws, policies, conventions and protocols imposed upon FIA and F1 officials to stage events within compressed time frames in far-flung countries during this utterly chaotic period – then factor in the realities of stringent personal data laws – any reasonable person should surely realise that successful implementation of the Covid-19 Code depends on responsible transparency.

That Lance left the circuit environment for his home in Switzerland without being Covid-19 tested on site simply beggars belief – regardless of what his private physician (allegedly) advised – such is the irresponsibility displayed. It smacks of the sort of arrogance the driver is regularly criticised for and the team has, since its takeover, too often displayed.

In asking various F1 folk about the conduct, there were two recurrent comments: That the team feared it would be shut down and moved from the paddock and disqualified from the Eifel Grand Prix, and hence the covert actions; and that the driver (and family) feared he would be isolated in Germany, and hence the need to repatriate him to Switzerland post-haste by private jet.

Lance Stroll, Racing Point, Nurburgring, 2020
Stroll walked the track at the Nurburgring but didn’t race
Protestations that he had not been in close contact with anyone cut no ice: The facts are that he was in the paddock and interview zone on Thursday despite having felt unwell since leaving Russia 10 days earlier. Team principal Otmar Szafnauer spoke of the driver isolating in his hotel; Lance wrote of having isolated in his “motorhome”. Something does not ring quite true – nor were these the only conflicting comments.

Since Racing Point acquired the bones of Force India through administrators FRP Advisory in August 2018 it has found itself embroiled in controversies in every F1 sphere: sporting, technical, commercial, regulatory and, now, Covid-19.

Significantly, it is the only team to have had either driver, let alone both, benched due to the pathogen, while Lawrence Stroll is the only team owner to have tested positive. While there are no suggestions they contracted the virus through neglect, the trio certainly seems to have been rather badly served by coincidence.

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Consider some of the other controversies: Sources advise Racing Point settled a long-running dispute with Haas over undue prize money, having entered F1 as new team for legal reasons despite punting itself as a continuation of Force India. The team sits plumb centre in looming litigation over how the sale was handled by the administrators – RaceFans understands the case is scheduled for November 9th in London, and that team executives will be called upon to testify.

Perez missed Silverstone races after positive tests
Then consider the ‘Pink Mercedes’ case, in which the team was found guilty of breaching rules governing the design of its car’s rear brake ducts. Tellingly, despite robust assertions of innocence from Stroll Snr, the team withdrew its appeal – citing revised regulations which expressly outlaw the practice in future – and the entire saga did the team’s standing no good within the wider F1 community.

The team made several trips to see the stewards in Algarve. On Friday the younger Stroll tangled with Max Verstappen on Friday “while checking his dash”, then copped two five-second penalties during the race. Perez was handed a pair of reprimands which Szafnauer claimed these were the “first in his entire career”, though he in fact already had half-a-dozen, the most recent occuring in Singapore last year.

Such sporting and technical matters could be shrugged off as part of the sharp practices regularly indulged in by all teams and drivers. The Haas prize money matter was resolved privately. The court case has yet to be heard, and may just be baseless, as such litigation often is. A little controversy can be good for business provided it is harmlessly diffused.

The same cannot be said about Racing Point’s handling of its latest Covid-19 case or the conflicting explanations forwarded by the team. An FIA spokesperson told RaceFans “an official warning the same as given to Ferrari and Mercedes [in Austria] had been issued to Racing Point over its breach of protocol, which demands:

“‘Our [FIA] Covid-19 delegate will also receive updates from the [the team] if during the covered event or within 14 days at the end of a covered event any circumstances arise (such as a disclosure by the approved test provider relating to you or reports made by you to the applicable stakeholder) that indicate that you may no longer be fit to attend the covered event(s).'”

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Clearly this was a notifiable situation and therefore failure to notify was a breach. Yet during the weekend Szafnauer twice maintained to the media that the team had not received a warning, merely a “reminder”.

Lance Stroll, Racing Point, Autodromo do Algarve, 2020
Stroll’s return to the cockpit didn’t go well
This dismissive comment epitomises the contempt displayed by Racing Point’s management towards the Code, which is designed to allay fears governments and regions have about welcoming the F1 circus during this troubled year. A number of senior F1 personalities confided their concerns that this cavalier attitude could destroy the goodwill F1 had worked so hard to generate.

On his return to the cockpit in Portugal, Stroll’s performance was so scratchy it was not unreasonable to wonder whether he had fully recovered. I asked Szafnauer whether his driver might even be suffering from what is known as “Long Covid”, namely symptoms and fatigue despite testing negative.

Szafnauer suggested the errors were due to Stroll having missed a race, and thus being out of it. “It’s hard for me to tell,” he said, “you ask Lance that question and he’s training with his trainer, and his trainer sees no difference and he feels well within himself, so that’s a hard thing to answer.”

Maybe so, but surely some medical advice would be in order, this time from a physician who takes symptoms seriously. Indeed, the FIA should insist on independent tests on all drivers who test positive.

The flaunting of F1’s technical and sporting regulations and/or exploitation of commercial and regulatory structures is one thing; the indifference to the wellbeing of others – such as those Stroll came into contact with, both inside and outside F1, alleged advice from personal physicians notwithstanding – is quite another. The FIA must treat Covid-19 breaches as it does all safety issues – by allowing zero tolerance.

Racing Point were officially warned over the Covid rules breach
The FIA updated its Covid-19 Code ahead of the Portuguese Grand Prix. Clauses requiring additional on-site tests were tabled on October 16th, five days before Stroll’s announcement. However, the FIA Code cannot be expected to be perfect due the evolutionary nature of the pathogen. Loopholes will arise, which is where plain common sense and a duty of care and responsibility enter the equation.

Accordingly, it absolutely unacceptable for a team to brazenly breach the Code and its provisions in such cavalier fashion, then seek ‘clarifications’ and plead ‘hindsight’ afterwards as with the ‘photocopier saga’. Those components did not place the immediate future of F1 at risk, nor the lives of F1 personnel. Never mind a ‘warning’ or a ‘reminder’; Racing Point should have been suspended from the Portuguese Grand Prix.

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Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...

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  • 44 comments on “Racing Point’s handling of Stroll’s Covid-19 test deserved a tougher response”

    1. Well, I can only agree with this article.
      Force India received a lot of positive energy as a underdog with exceptional results on track. RP is burning up this goodwill.

      1. Agree. As a life-long fan of Aston Martin Racing in GT and LMP1, having the Strolls involved in both the F1 team and company have somewhat dampened my enthusiasm for the return of such a great, historic and evocative name into Formula 1.

        The Strolls themselves don’t come across as being particularly likeable or pleasant people who seem to think that the rules don’t apply to them.

        1. Well, rules are made by rich people not FOR rich people. They are proving this theory is valid.

    2. Agreed. 100%.

      Great article.

    3. I was disappointed with the way RP handled Stroll’s COVID issue. I can understand they didn’t want to disrupt their race weekend, but there was potential exposure to other team personnel and F1 individuals.
      RP treated it like it was a way to secure a competitive advantage without considering the risks to others. COVID is not about time penalties, it is life and death for a few easily more susceptible individuals. I am deeply ashamed of their behaviour.

    4. The more I read the more I thought “Hit piece”

      1. You have got to be kidding. A team brazenly breaches and disregards not only the code itself, but the potential consequences – which could be life-threatening at worst and goodwill-threatening at best – and that’s a hit piece? Righto.

      2. @blik, read it with both eyes please. Not only your left one.

        1. @dieterrencken It is though. The article is a random assortment of unconfirmed slanders mixed with some unrelated trivia. Almost every paragraph is an (often unsubstantiated) pointed finger at RP. Even going so far as pulling the “Pink Mercedes” out of the hat.

          1. It is almost certainly not random @f1osaurus. Certainly not Slander. The rumours and opinions mentioned are most likely based on inside information that just is not attributed officially to protect the sources.

            The Pink Mercedes is a real thing. The FIA penelised the team for copying Mercedes parts.

            1. @bascb It is random. Wild accusations all over the place.

              The FIA penelised the team for copying Mercedes parts

              No, they were penalized for not using those parts in 2019. They went over everything with the FIA and were not doing anything untoward

              So how is RP getting caught out on a technicality related to COVID? Spoiler alert, hit piece. Piling on. Gutter “journalism”

            2. That is simply not true. The matter of the fact is, that the use of those brake drums was easy to prove, so Renault protested against that. And was found to be bang to rights, so the FIA had to penalise RP.

              They had discussions, but nobody challenged any other parts. Because it is hard to conclusively prove it. And the most important part for the other teams was to stop this from continuing, so they didn’t push further either. This certainly was not “a technicallity”

              And the Covid handling for the Boss’ son was completely mishandled. And if that hurts the trust authorities have that F1 can make sure it does not pull Covid-19 with it, it could hurt the whole season because of countries being afraid to let the racing travel to places.

            3. @bascb – Applaud the effort and agree with your points, but facts mean nothing to those (^^^) who only care about things that confirm what they believe.

        2. Just honest feedback as to the sense I got as I read further and further. It’s how you told it. Attended my first GP at Kyalami 1969 and have followed closely since.

    5. A physician who doesn’t take symptoms seriously in a pandemic should be struck off.

      Mention of photocopy sagas reminds me of “Spygate”: I doubt Ron would have handled Lance’s case in the same way as RP. I guess it’s analogous to speeding in a built up area: some folks don’t do it on principle, whereas others weigh up the risk of being caught.

      As with Rangers & HMRC, I doubt the courts are going to hand RP to Mazepin. The administrators may get a slap (without prejudice) if the “flat pack” wasn’t done correctly, but “flat packs”/”preferred bidder” are a bit of a grey area. “Prove that your funds are AML compliant” may be an interesting question [again, without prejudice ;)]

      1. AML = anti money laundering in this case, not Aston Martin Lagonda.

    6. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
      27th October 2020, 12:05

      I was very surprised to see Lance racing this weekend and his race suggests that he wasn’t 100% ok as it was very error prone.

      As much as I like the team, this is a case where the FIA should definitely investigate and issue a very hefty point penalty. There is no middle ground here.

      1. <>

        “no middle ground”, indeed. Not a “nice” move.

    7. This article is all over the place. Is this about how they handled COVID? How they bought Force India? How Stroll is a bad driver?

      I’d argue we didn’t get an onboard shot from Norris so quite hard to tell which driver was at fault. And the Verstappen incident was cleared by the stewards. Why bring this up?

      1. @paeschli The onboard view from Norris’ car was broadcasted on the world feed.

      2. @paeschli Exactly, it’s like the started with a bunch of random notes and just decided to dump them all in the article instead of keeping only the related ones. Quantity over quality again.

        I would agree RP might have been somewhat more forward supplying FIA with information. Still, Stroll was feeling unwell, tested negative for COVID, so then what? He actually stayed mostly quarantined.

        The whole thing with Perez seemed much more suspect. With alleged photo’s of him being out and about on social media.

        1. RP might have been somewhat more forward

          Rotfl…

          1. Well that’s the only thing they could have done. Report that Stroll was not feeling well. Even though he had had a negative test result.

            1. That and reporting when Stroll had tested positive immediately would have given me some basis to believe the rest of their story.

    8. Thank you for writing this article @dieterrencken, it had to be said. I was quite upset with the attetude of Bottas, and more so Leclerc in Austria.

      I was worried when Perez got the virus – with today’s knowledge, can we even be certain that the explanation given he “got it from a hired cook” is more factual than the stories about what exactly happened with Lance? – and upset that they were just having him jetting around the world and meeting people.

      In Russia, Lance was already having issues, I think we should expect the sport to be extra carefull with any health cases, especially when there are so many different sympthoms that people experience with Covid-19. Sure, he got tested, and maybe it was not connected? But he was in the paddock on Thursday, and wasn’t he seen in the paddock on Friday and even on Saturday morning too? Meeting other F1 people, possibly even people from the team.

      With all of this, it gives yet another reason for why Norris was upset at Stroll – remember it was the McLaren team who took the responsible step of announcing they would not race in Australia. Now we had a driver who was there in Germany while sick and who knows whether is really was fully recovered, but they were racing as if nothign happened. And I am sure that with so many people having longer term effects, we cannot simply exclude the possibility that Stroll just is not fully up to “spec” yet. Had he not been the owners son, would this have happened? I doubt it.

      This kind of thing is exactly what F1 does not need with their plans for the calendar next year having 23 races all over the world, no doubt Liberty is discussing safety precautions with all the countries involved. Any doubt about F1’s approach can ruin that calendar and in effect ruin the whole grid financially. Not to mention the risks posed to all those thousands of people involved.

      1. Bottas stayed in his family bubble effectively. Leclerc from reports went to effectively a party with friends. There is quite a big difference.

        Perez also actually went to a restaurant with some of his family, (who I don’t believe he had been constantly seeing) so it wasn’t really sensible was it? From what i remember reading, there were some pictures shared at the time on social media that were quickly removed and probably because they realised that giving evidence of what Perez had done was not good. It is highly possible that Perez brought the virus to himself. Bottas situation was very different. It still wasn’t advisable, but certainly not stupid like what Perez and Leclerc did.

        1. Yes, the situation with Bottas was not ideal (still was leaving his normal bubble, adding travel etc) but it was only a mildly annoying thing to do at the time. Leclerc was obviously more blatantly against what was agreed and Perez seemed to me complete folly @thegianthogweed.

      2. “different sympthoms (sic) that people experience with Covid-19” Especially since most of them are the same as the regular flu, which is still a thing.

        1. That is not quite the case @danmar. Yes, some are similar to the flu, but actually the loss of smell/taste, very high fever, spots like with measles for a day or two, blood clotting without any warning, and also diarrhea is not at all common for commof flue (it is for “stomach flu” which is mostly simply food poisoning) and many more aren’t all that common with the flu. But all of them do appear for some Covid-19 pantients.

    9. @blik, read it with both eyes please. Not only your left one.

    10. someone or something
      27th October 2020, 15:01

      Having read this piece with both eyes, and a bit between the lines as well, my question is: Do we know who left the team? The insider who used to be a reliable source in the last few years?

      I just can’t help but notice the drastic change in tonality, from compassionate, almost partial, articles, to this particularly scathing reckoning that targets pretty much everything that’s wrong with the team these days.
      Not that there’s anything wrong with it. It’s a pretty good rundown on the reasons why many fans simply cannot cheer for the team that used to be Jordan anymore. Why many of us would rather see Szafnauer eat his face mask than listen to the many arrogant lies dictated into the microphones by this team’s members.

      But still, this sudden change in tonality, as well as its timing, is rather odd.

      1. grumpy old man syndrome maybe

        1. someone or something
          27th October 2020, 22:47

          You’re terrible at insults.

    11. Too harsh. Yes, it was brazen, but doesn’t warrant a race ban.

    12. When rich people can buy their way into anything they think the regular rules don’t apply to them.

      It’s a systemic problem, not an isolated case.

      1. +1
        I mean.. the escape to Switzerland via private jet, wow

        1. To be fair, I’d be surprised if Lance has caught anything other than a private jet in his whole life. God forbid he join the “bus w⚓️s” on a first-class commercial flight…

          1. You made my day Rhys.

    13. No it’s not. It’s clear that no on-site tests policy is the incompetence of FIA not RP fault. Why should Stroll and Racing Point had to be blamed when the doctor didn’t think it’s not necessary to test covid on stomach ache? Doesn’t make any sense at all.

    14. I check anti-Stroll comments, turns out there’s 100% of them! XD

    15. Compare the reactions of Racing Point to McLaren and Mercedes this year and it’s pretty clear they’re not taking their responsibility to the sport seriously at all.

      McLaren kick started the serious reaction at the start of the year in Australia by pulling themselves out of the race weekend regardless of cost to the team. Mercedes ensured that they followed all the guidelines to the later by isolating an entire bubble of staff when a positive test was found recently.

      Racing Point on the other hand are bring symptomatic staff into the F1 bubble with impunity and as alleged in the article, not actually following the paddock guidelines at all. There is a very real risk if F1 is seen to not be taking the pandemic seriously enough that all the circus could be held in quarantine in some countries or refused entry at others. You’re only as good as your weakest link and Racing Point is making F1 look pretty poor.

      To those saying they followed the guidelines, would you be happy with Stroll coming into your home to cosy up with your family with any illness symptoms at present. I suspect anyone saying yes is lying.

      1. I would add that I think Stroll is partially to blame but for me the ultimate blame lies with the teams management who should have taken stronger action. Drivers would say anything to drive, not matter the cost and always have.

        1. The team boss is his father…

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