Formula One organisers offered a ray of hope to fans when they announced on Thursday that the delayed season will start in the first week of July with the Austrian GP in Spielberg. If held, it will be the first race of the season held up by the Covid-19 pandemic. The July 5 race will still get the green light from authorities only on condition that it is held behind closed doors, and provides a few other guarantees.
“Authorisation to stage the event depends entirely on the security plan the organisers present,” Austrian health minister Rudolf Anschober said. “We will only allow such events under very strict conditions, and of course, it goes without saying, without a crowd.”
The Austrian government expects the race at the Red Bull Ring to be conducted with only Austrians involved in its management allowed entry other than the team members.
Earlier this week, F1 boss Chase Carey said it was targetting a curtailed season of 15-18 races, from the original 22. “August to November would see us race in Eurasia, Asia and the Americas, finishing the season in the Gulf in December with Bahrain before the traditional finale in Abu Dhabi,” he said in a statement. The June 28 French Grand Prix—the 10th race of this season to be deferred or scrapped— was cancelled this week after the country’s decision to ban all major sporting events at least till mid July. The British GP, scheduled for July 19 at Silverstone, is expected to be held behind closed doors. Organisers of Germany’s Hockenheimring have also come forward to hold a race. It is not among this year’s venues having failed to reach an agreement with F1, but if closed door races take place in Europe, Germany could end up hosting one.
Carey was clear the races will only go ahead “if we are confident we have reliable procedures to address both risks and possible issues” and that the “health and safety” of all will be the priority.
The international automobile federation (FIA) has extended the shutdown period for F1 teams from 35 to 63 consecutive days. “All competitors must now observe a shutdown period during March, April, May and/or June. 50 days after the start of their shutdown period, upon application by a competitor, and subject to the prior written approval of the FIA, each competitor may use the services of a maximum of 10 personnel to work remotely on long lead time projects,” an FIA statement said.
Formula E founder Alejandro Agag reckons his electric series and F1 have 50-50 chance of getting their seasons started. The Spaniard, whose city-based series started in November with five races held before the virus forced it off the streets, said it was unclear how much was going to be possible as restrictions eased.
“We are going to try the same thing. We are going to try to put some races behind closed doors,” Agag said.
Formula E has a logistical advantage as it has far smaller teams and controls all the cars, which are currently stored in Valencia, after the last race in Morocco at the end of February.