PARIS – Driving around Formula One tracks without fans cheering at Silverstone and Monza would literally feel “very empty” for world champion Lewis Hamilton.
The first 10 races this season have been postponed or canceled amid the coronavirus pandemic, with the iconic Monaco Grand Prix scrapped for the first time in 66 years.
F1 remains hopeful that the season can start in early July with a doubleheader at the Austrian Grand Prix, and that 15 to 18 of the 22 scheduled races can yet be completed.
But all of them would be held without any spectators until it is safe.
“It’s going to be very empty," Hamilton said on Saturday, evoking the subdued atmosphere of preseason testing in Spain.
“For us it’s going to be like a test day, probably even worse than a test day in a sense," the Mercedes driver said. "On a test day there’s not a huge amount of people in Barcelona, but there are still some.”
However, any racing would provide a welcome boost to people during lockdown.
“I’m getting messages from people around the world who are struggling during this period because they’re not getting to watch sports," Hamilton said in a video posted online by Mercedes. “It just shows just how significant sport is in people’s lives, it brings us all together and it’s so exciting and captivating. I don’t know how exciting it is going to be for people watching it on TV, but it’s going to be better than nothing.”
Hamilton was praised for publicly questioning whether the season-opening Australian GP should go ahead on March 15. It was eventually canceled, but only two days beforehand and with fans still queuing up.
Hamilton had used the first official news conference with F1 drivers to say he was shocked that organizers planned to proceed with the race, which attracts more than 300,000 people over four days.
McLaren withdrew even before the cancellation after a team member tested positive for the coronavirus. Mercedes wrote to governing body FIA and F1 requesting the cancellation and began preparations to leave before the decision was announced.
The whole experience in Melbourne was a merry-go-round of uncertainty.
“It really, really was a shock to the system. Obviously on that Thursday, I had commented my opinion of whether or not we should have been there," Hamilton said. “Then to wake up the next day, honestly, with the excitement that I'm going to be getting inside the car ... and then to hear that we're not going to be going to the track. It was very, very surreal.”
Hamilton made his F1 debut in 2007, winning his first title the following year with McLaren before adding five more with Mercedes. Those years were a whirlwind of international travel with Hamilton winning 84 of the 250 races he has entered.
“This is the first time I can remember that I've been in one place for six weeks; it's very, very unusual considering we're always on the road,” Hamilton said. “(It) has taken some getting used to.”
Amid all the uncertainty, one thing Hamilton has managed to control is his weight.
Having arrived at preseason testing in February in arguably the best shape of his career, at 35 years old, Hamilton has stayed fully fit.
“My weight's probably stayed around the same. Having this time gives you more time to focus on things, on the areas of weakness — tedious things like calf muscles,” Hamilton said. “There are strengths and weaknesses on all of our bodies. When you go to the gym, often you work the big muscles but not necessarily the small ones.”
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