F1 2020 Set To Begin With Fan-Free Race On 5 July In Austria
Formula 1 CEO Chase Carey has confirmed that the latest revised schedule for 2020 could begin with a spectator-free Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring in Austria on 3-5 July, and incorporate further races in Europe, Asia and the Americas ahead of the season finale in Abu Dhabi in December.
In his statement, in which Chase states Liberty Media is “now increasingly confident with the progress of [their] plans”, the proposed schedule would effectively do away with F1’s traditional summer break, and would make Austria, originally round 11 of the 22-race 2020 schedule, the season opener.
“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 3-5 July weekend,” the Liberty media top dog confirmed. “September, October and 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, having completed between 15-18 races.
“We will publish our finalised calendar as soon as we possibly can.
“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. 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.”
This announcement also opens the door for follow-up, and presumably also fan-free, events in Britain, Hungary and Italy. The Grand Prix at Silverstone, Hungaroring and Monza were originally scheduled to follow the Austrian race on 19 July, 2 August and 6 September respectively, placing them all neatly within the proposed plans. Indeed, in the wake Carey’s announcement, a letter sent to British GP ticket-holders explains “a grand prix under normal conditions is just not going to be possible” owing to public health concerns, meaning tickets will either be refunded or transferred to the 2021 event. However, Silverstone circuit boss Stuart Pringle has also confirmed that the venue is working on “the viability of an event behind closed doors.” Should Silverstone’s 19 July slot remain intact, it, like Austria, would also run a fan-free event.
The Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps might also be a consideration, scheduled as it originally was for 30 August. The nation’s ban on all major public events though, even in the wake of Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès statement that coronavirus restrictions in Belgium could be “gradually” lifted from 31 May onwards, could still stymie that.
‘Confirmation’ of races across Eurasia and the Americas means the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at the Yas Marina Circuit in the United Arab Emirates is also set to retain its spot as the F1 season finale, a rescheduled Bahrain Grand Prix, originally planned as round two on 22 March, taking place presumably one week earlier.
Even with the restricted schedule, more than eight Grand Prix – and as many as 18, potentially, across three continents – means the title chase would count as an official World Championship season. Both the Drivers’ and Constructors’ crowns, currently held by Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes-AMG F1 respectively, would be up for grabs.
In and amongst news of the ever-changing F1 2020 calendar, Circuit Paul Ricard has also confirmed the cancellation, rather than postponement, of the French Grand Prix, originally set for 28 June.
Eric Boullier, former Lotus F1 team principal and now Managing Director of the GIP Grand Prix de France – Le Castellet, explains that, in lieu of public health concerns, attention now turns to the 2021 event:
“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.
“The eyes of the GIP Grand Prix de France – Le Castellet are already turning towards the summer of 2021 in order to offer our spectators an even more unprecedented event at the heart of the Région Sud.”
*Images courtesy of Mercedes F1, Ferrari and Red Bull Racing