When the Australian Formula 1 grand prix was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Frenchman opted not to return to France to put his family potentially at risk and instead embarked on a 58 day training camp in Dubai.
Here’s what he had to say about the last few months leading up to the restart of racing this coming weekend in Australia.
“After Australia was cancelled, I went to Dubai as that had always been my plan to go there before moving onto Bahrain for the second race. I thought I’d spend two or three days there to see how the situation evolved. Then we saw that Italy had shut its airports, so I couldn’t go back there and I also did not want to go back to France and maybe put my family at risk after all the flights I’d been on. So, I decided to stay in Dubai with my trainer and we effectively had a two month training camp. Restrictions in Dubai were pretty much the same as in Europe and you had to wear a mask and gloves to go outside the apartment.
“Eventually, I returned to France in mid-May which was a strange experience, with an almost deserted Dubai airport and no direct flights to France so I had to go via Frankfurt. Everything ran late, I missed my train and ended up with a seven hour drive to get home! It felt good to spend some time with them, because usually I don’t see them much during the year. I’ve never had such a long break from racing or from flying, as we’re usually at an airport every few days. Nor have I ever spent two months in one place before, since I was maybe ten years old.
“In Dubai, I probably trained for 58 days out of 60, so physically I’m in the best shape of my life and I’ve really improved. I spent some time playing on line with some friends and I also decided to improve my Italian and took some lessons on line. I also worked on getting my boat pilot’s license, as well as doing some real karting and playing golf. When I got back home to France, I continued with the karting and also took part in the virtual F1 and Le Mans races which was a fantastic experience. It was fun and filled the time. I also kept in touch with the team, talking to Franz every week, as well as my engineer. Then finally, we got to drive a real Formula 1 car again at Imola for the filming day, first in the 2018 car and then in this year’s. It was incredible, especially at Imola, one of my favourite tracks, where I last raced in 2012. It made me super happy.
“I miss racing, the adrenaline, the competition and the speed, so it’s super that we can start again. It’s going to be really busy with a race nearly every week, so it’s a very exciting time right now. It’s a shame there will be no fans at the first few races, but I feel it was important to get the season started as soon and as safely as possible. Hopefully things will free up in the coming months.
I trust all the safety requirements to be in place. There are certainly plenty of restrictions in terms of how we can move about and talk to people, with all sorts of health related rules in place. It’s not straightforward and we will take all the necessary precautions. For the drivers, at least when we are in the car, it will all seem like normal. It’s outside that things are more complicated.”