The impact of Covid-19 on the paddock

by | Mar 18, 2020 | British Superbikes, Latest News, MotoGP, WorldSBK | 0 comments

It’s at times of crisis that you see how small a part of the picture sports are. They’re a fantastic distraction, they give structure to our free time and while motorcycle racing is important, it’s not the be all and end all. It’s why we’ve seen so many positive messages from teams and riders about fans staying safe and doing what’s best for everyone.

What’s best for the teams though? What’s best for the riders? What’s best for mechanics and engineers? What’s best for the ancillary staff that make races go ahead? Business as usual is the best approach, and it’s the approach that most teams are taking. For some that will mean still receiving their monthly pay cheques but business as usual for a lot of the paddock means that they’re not a fixed income salary; they’re on event by event contracts.  

To try and understand what the global shutdown of motorcycle racing means for people on the front line of racing, RacingLowdown spoke – on the condition of anonymity – to a number of team managers, riders, agents and paddock personnel to gage how they will be affected by the delay in resuming racing. For the purpose of this article their answers are combined to a single representative.

Unprecedented times

This is a challenge that is unprecedented in racing. The changes that we will see as a result of Covid-19 will change life forever. This will have the same effect as September 11 had on global travel and the security protocols that were implemented in its aftermath. The world will move on but it will inch forward rather than bound past the Coronavirus.

“This is unprecedented,” said a team manger. “Our priority is to our partners and our staff. We need to be ready to go back to racing at a moments notice but we also need to be prepared for it. Our aim is to win a championship so you have to be look after your staff in the mean time. You have to pay wages and keep your normal structures in place. Riders are the most public part of a race team but they’re just a part of it. 

“Riders and teams are similar in how they have to approach this delay; they need to stay fit and be ready to win when racing resumes and the teams are the same; they need to be prepared for racing. Our goal at a time like this is that, as a team, we limit the risks on our business. WorldSBK doesn’t have full-factory teams. Other than Honda the teams are supported by manufacturers. The risks are shared between both entities, unless in some instances there is an agreement to underwrite the costs of the team. The majority of the grid are supported by a manufacturer but ran independently. Those teams need to be able to survive.”

For a rider the biggest question mark will always come down to wages and what happens in the coming months. Some series are facing a long delay while others are facing a shorter time between rounds. At the moment there is no need to panic, but speaking to a rider’s manager the fear of the unknown was clear.

“Riders will typically agree their wages for a season,” said the agent. “Teams and riders will have a base salary for the year that is split into equal payments. This can be monthly or quarterly but it is set in stone. The riders will expect these payments to be met on time regardless of what else happens. For the majority of riders, their bonuses through a season are important because these can take the form of various payments.

“For some teams they will have bonuses based on physical tests and weigh-ins. Will they still go ahead if you can’t travel? Race bonuses take the form of points, podium or win bonuses. The longer the delay goes on, the bigger impact this can have on a rider and their overall income. Invoices will have been sent from riders to teams to cover their winter testing, and now they’ll expect them to be paid. For factory riders in MotoGP and WorldSBK, they’ll expect these to be paid but the lower down the series you go the less likely this will be to happen. It’s an uncertain time for riders.”

One rider commented about the impact that they’ve seen by saying, “I’ve lost out on personal sponsors because they can’t afford to invest in racing now. They know that it’s uncertain and they’ve always looked after, me so I can understand it but it doesn’t make it easier. You budget for what you’ll take in and a lot of riders in smaller series will be paid a small wage, enough to cover travel and the expenses of racing, but without sponsors they’ll struggle.”

For the majority of leather and helmet companies – which are always a big income stream for riders – their deals are dependant on an event by event basis rather than a lump sum for the season. The longer the delay goes on, the more this will impact on riders. For some riders they are looking at a short time on the sidelines until racing resumes; but with the Northwest 200 postponed and Isle of Man TT being cancelled, top class Road Racers look set to bear the brunt of these costs. 

“Teams have certain risks that they have to manage, the wages for key staff, that need to be paid,” said the team manager. “That being said the cost of racing is felt from very early in the year. Workshop costs, trucks, insurance are all the same for one event as they are for a full season. A lot of top teams have already made their main investment for the season so now we have to make sure that our bills are paid and that when racing resumes, you’re ready to compete at the front. 

“At the moment teams will be talking to sponsors about what this postponement means. The effect of this year may not be felt immediately because it could be next year that we see the full impact. Sponsors might look for a discount next year if races are cancelled. It’s a time filled with uncertainty, because our costs are set in advance for the year and we budget for them. The infrastructure of a race team and the other costs are the same for one race or a full season. You obviously save some money on travel or on damage, but that’s a small amount compared to the total costs of running a race team.”

For some teams the biggest challenge could be felt in other areas rather than just their race teams. Across the British Superbike paddock, there are lots of teams that operate at the mercy of an owner who loves racing. They are successful in construction or other areas and have a team as a side project. If the race team starts to bleed into the main business it’s a lot easier to cut off the rot rather than wait it out to find a solution. 

“It is a risk to have a race team that’s linked to bigger businesses and other interests. You can’t have the overall company suffer because the race team is costing too much money. If a country goes into a shutdown, like Spain or Italy, suddenly the risks grow bigger too. Big losses for your race team can expose the rest of your business to undue risks. At the moment the biggest thing any team can do is keep calm. Right now that means making sure everyone is looked after in what’s an unprecedented challenge. We all need to remember that this is all a quickly developing situation and a lot has been changing on a regular basis.”

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