SG News (Straits Times)

Roadblocks ahead of an F1 return

By December 18, 2020 No Comments

LONDON • Not only is Formula One facing the prospect of empty stands due to the coronavirus pandemic, but it will also have to slim down considerably to get the green light to go racing.

F1’s season remains stalled, with seven races postponed and two cancelled as a result of Covid-19.

With the French Grand Prix set to be pushed back as well and Belgian Grand Prix also in doubt, organisers are considering a condensed calendar, possibly running into January.

The latest plan is for the season to start behind closed doors in Austria on July 5 and then hold two races at Silverstone, a home venue for seven of the 10 F1 teams, according to the BBC.

F1 chiefs have floated the idea of making up for lost time by staging races on successive weekends and even having two races on the same weekend, with Racefans.net suggesting that Silverstone could host three races on different layouts in four weeks.

While the sport’s managing director, Ross Brawn, has revealed that “every permutation is being discussed”, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel is against shoehorning too many races into a revised calendar, calling the idea “not realistic”.

Urging F1 to consider the health risks that an exacting schedule brings about for non-drivers, the four-time world champion added: “We pilots are a bit privileged. Of course, the races can be exhausting, but the limit must be for the workers, they have to rest.

“The schedule will be more loaded, but it is not realistic to think of 10 consecutive weekends.”

Austria Sports Minister Werner Kogler said earlier this week that he would “not stand in the way” of the Spielberg race – as long as it is behind closed doors and other safeguards involving social distancing are in place.

Vettel has accepted that this appears to be the only way F1 can return to the track.

Although the likelihood of “ghost races” remains “odd” to him, he understood it was about looking at the bigger picture.

UNREALISTIC

Of course, the races can be exhausting, but the limit must be for the workers, they have to rest. The schedule will be more loaded, but it is not realistic to think of 10 consecutive weekends.

SEBASTIAN VETTEL, Ferrari driver, urging F1 to consider the health risks that an exacting schedule will bring about for non-drivers.

CROWDED EVENT

Even without spectators, we would have a lot of people on site to organise the event.

STIJN DE BOEVER, Belgian Grand Prix commercial director, on the possible breach of the ban on mass gatherings.

“On the one hand, you have the health of the sport… from a business aspect,” the German said. “On the other hand, you have responsibility for the working people inside the paddock… and the fans.

“Nobody likes to race in front of empty grandstands… but we have a lot of people that come to watch the races.

“We need to make sure, as much as we are taking care of ourselves, we are taking care of the public.

“Probably the first couple of races will be a bit compromised compared to what we are used to.”

But, while Red Bull team boss Christian Horner feels it is “absolutely viable” to flag off the season in Austria, the sheer number of people involved in races makes safe distancing a problem – even if fans are barred.

On a race weekend, there could be as many as 60 people per team that “are associated in any way with the operation of the cars” in the paddock.

That excludes the Pirelli tyre fitters, FIA technicians, other key suppliers, F1 employees, broadcasters and media personnel as well as track and medical staff.

Although F1 is said to be in discussions to pare down the numbers, McLaren team principal Andreas Seidl does not think “it will be much different compared to normal race events because we simply need all the people”.

With such a large group, it could also breach bans on mass gatherings.

“Even without spectators, we would have a lot of people on site to organise the event,” admitted Belgian Grand Prix commercial director Stijn de Boever.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

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