LONDON (Reuters) – Formula One could start the season behind locked gates due to the COVID-19 pandemic but the glamour sport will likely have to slim down considerably to get the green light to go racing.
Across Europe, bans on mass gatherings and public events have been extended into July and August even as countries begin to emerge from the strict lockdowns that have put sporting activities on hold.
Formula One’s season has been stalled in the pits, with seven postponed races so far and organisers talking of a much revised and reduced calendar possibly running into the New Year.
“We’re looking at the logistics of a closed race, how would we get the people there, how would we protect them, how would we make it safe, who would we allow into the paddock,” F1’s managing director Ross Brawn said this month.
“Every permutation is being discussed.”
That could mean some of Europe’s permanent circuits, such as Silverstone, Austria’s Red Bull Ring, Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya, France’s Le Castellet and the Hungaroring near Budapest, hosting multiple races without a crowd.
Austria has said it would not be opposed to a race without spectators, if travel restrictions were lifted and other safeguards enacted.
Red Bull team boss Christian Horner said the energy drink company’s Spielberg track needed little more than the lights turning on.
“It can be ready in a very short period of time to fit the (governing) FIA’s criteria,” he told Sky Sports television. “So the prospect of being able to run a race behind closed doors is absolutely feasible.
“I think there is going to be a staged route back into full-on grands prix and there are certain circuits they are talking to about crowdless events, potentially just focusing on TV events for now with limited numbers of people.”
WHAT IS A MASS EVENT?
Formula One rules state that each of the 10 teams can have no more than 60 people “who are associated in any way with the operation of the cars” in the paddock.
There are then the Pirelli tyre fitters, FIA technicians, other key suppliers, Formula One employees, broadcasters and media as well as track and medical staff running into the hundreds.
Broadcast personnel range from some 40-45 typically attending for Britain’s Sky Sports television to half that number for Sky Italia and as few as eight for Sky Germany.
“The operational personnel is pretty much defined by the regulations,” McLaren team principal Andreas Seidl told reporters on Wednesday.
“I don’t think it will be much different compared to normal race events because we simply need all the people in order to operate the cars, to service them during the weekend and to race them and do the pitstops.”
Formula One sources said detailed conversations were ongoing with teams to bring the numbers down to bare bones, with media access likely to be restricted to ensure safe spacing. Team marketing and sponsors would have to stay away.
How feasible a just-for-television ‘ghost race’ would be depends also on interpretation.
“Even without spectators we would have a lot of people on site to organise the event,” said Belgian Grand Prix commercial director Stijn de Boever, whose country on Wednesday banned mass gatherings until the end of August.
“What is a mass event? Does that mean 500, 3,000 or 5,000 people?”
Formula One’s hope is that getting some races done, even without a trackside audience, opens up the chance of a proper championship if Asian and Middle Eastern races can go ahead later in the year.
Reporting by Alan Baldwin; Editing by Ken Ferris