Formula One season to start in Austria in July

British Grand Prix still set to go ahead on July 19th while French race has been called off

This year’s British Grand Prix will take place without fans after Silverstone’s owners said that a race “under normal conditions is just not going to be possible” because of coronavirus. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire

This year’s British Grand Prix will take place without fans after Silverstone’s owners said that a race “under normal conditions is just not going to be possible” because of coronavirus. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire

 

Formula One is planning to start its new season in Austria on July 5th and plan to hold between 15 and 18 races this year, with the opening meetings behind closed doors. The F1 group made the statement immediately after the announcement that the French Grand Prix had been cancelled and that the British Grand Prix would be held behind closed doors if it goes ahead this year.

The French GP, set to take place on June 28th, was the 10th meeting to be be called off because of the coronavirus outbreak but its cancellation had been long expected after President Macron banned mass gatherings in the country until July. F1 has been in extensive planning and discussions to consider how and when the season may begin and Austria, where lockdown restrictions have already been relaxed, was expected to be the first meeting.

“We are now increasingly confident with the progress of our plans to begin our season this summer,” said Chase Carey, the chairman of the F1 group. “We’re targeting a start to racing in Europe through July, August and beginning of September, with the first race taking place in Austria on July 3rd-5th weekend.”

Carey also indicated that potential plans to extend the season into January 2021 had not been pursued. “September, October and November, would see us race in Eurasia, Asia and the Americas,” he said. “Finishing the season in the Gulf in December with Bahrain before the traditional finale in Abu Dhabi, having completed between 15-18 races. We will publish our finalised calendar as soon as we possibly can.”

Silverstone was expected to make a decision on whether it would be possible to host the British Grand Prix with fans present in late April, and has duly concluded that this would not be possible. The circuit is now entering discussions with the department for digital, culture, media and sport to consider whether it is possible to host the race, set to take place on July 19th, behind closed doors.

F1 is known to be considering holding two races back-to-back in both Austria and Britain in an attempt to make the best use of the limited scheduling time remaining this year. They did, however, acknowledge that all current planning was subject to the circumstances and restrictions imposed by the coronavirus outbreak.

“We expect the early races to be without fans but hope fans will be part of our events as we move further into the schedule,” said Carey. “We still have to work out many issues like the procedures for the teams and our other partners to enter and operate in each country. The health and safety of all involved will continue to be priority one and we will only go forward if we are confident we have reliable procedures to address both risks and possible issues.”

Meetings hosted behind closed doors will have no way of recouping hosting fees and it is reasonable to assume F1 would have to waive the fees in order for the races to take place. Silverstone’s organisers declined to make any comment on the financial arrangements of a closed door race, but that they are going ahead with planning to do so suggests an agreement has already been made.

Hosting fees are one of the three largest sources of income for F1 and losing them means it will have to absorb a major financial hit. However holding races, even behind closed doors, is going some way to meeting commitments to broadcasters and sponsors.

Of the remaining grands prix on the calendar it is likely current dates will shift later into the year. Should Austria host two races on July 5th and 12th, a week off would then be required if Silverstone were also to hold two, shifting the first British Grand Prix to the July 26th. The circuit has said it is willing to move the event.

The Belgian Grand Prix too will almost certainly have to move from its proposed date August 30th, with public gatherings banned in the country until the end of August. F1’s new calendar is expected to be a complete rescheduling of the remaining events.

Silverstone has said ticket holders for this year’s race will be refunded or have their tickets carry over to 2021. They have also announced that at next year’s race they will give away thousands of tickets to NHS and key workers. “We have left this difficult decision for as long as possible,” said Stuart Pringle, Silverstone’s managing director. “But it is abundantly clear given the current conditions in the country and the Government requirements in place now and for the foreseeable future, that a grand prix under normal conditions is just not going to be possible.”

The French Grand Prix becomes the third race to be officially cancelled

rather than postponed, alongside Australia and Monaco, with organisers now

focusing on next season.

“Given the evolution of the situation linked to the spread of the Covid-19 virus, the French Grand Prix takes note of the decisions announced by the French state making it impossible to maintain our event,” said French GP director Eric Boullier. “The eyes of the Grand Prix de France are already turning towards the summer of 2021.” – Guardian

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