The coronavirus-hit Formula One season will finally get underway with the Austrian Grand Prix on July 5, the Austrian government announced Saturday. “Although this morning it was announced that the French Grand Prix, due to take place in late June, will not be going ahead, we are now increasingly confident with the progress of our plans to begin our season this summer,” said the report.
Formula One hopes to finally start the season with a double-header in the naturally isolated environment around the venue for the Austrian Grand Prix.
Despite the first 10 races having been canceled or postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic, the targeted start date is 5 July in Austria. F1 still envisages holding 15 to 18 of the 22 scheduled Grand Prix.
One way to make up for the lost time is having consecutive weekends on one circuit, like the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg. F1 manager director of motorsports Ross Brawn says this is a “real consideration” so long as iron-tight safety regulations are met.
“One of the logistical challenges is getting everyone tested and cleared to enter the racing environment,” he told an official F1 podcast. “We can contain everyone within that environment, and therefore once we are there it is appealing to have another race the following week.” The Red Bull Ring’s location in the Styrian Mountains makes it naturally isolated.
“It’s pretty challenging to find the right sort of races early on where we can control the environment well enough to ensure the safety of everyone,” Brawn added. “Austria fits that bill very well. It has a local airport right next to the circuit, where people can charter planes into. It’s not too close to a metropolis.”
Austrian health minister Rudolf Anschober said the two races had been approved after the Formula One organizers had “presented a comprehensive, professional security plan” to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
The Red Bull Ring’s relatively remote location and a nearby local airport have made it the ideal venue for F1 in the current circumstances, while rates of infection and a death toll of less than 700 in Austria have been relatively smaller than other European countries.
“It is up to each individual sport to decide exactly when to resume competition. They know their sports best. But football, tennis, horse racing, Formula 1, cricket, golf, rugby, snooker, and others are all set to return to our (TV) screens shortly,” said Oliver Dowden, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport.
The British GP is set to follow on 19 July and organisers are talking to the government about the viability of holding that race without fans.
The season could then continue later in the summer in Hungary, where the Hungaroring circuit is nestled in the countryside outside Budapest; and Belgium, whose Spa-Francorchamps track is within the Ardennes forest. The idea is then to move into Eurasia, Asia, and the Americas before concluding with Bahrain and Abu Dhabi in the Gulf.
“It’s important for us to try and get the season going. One reason is to excite the fans,” Brawn said. “But it is (also) a very important livelihood for thousands of people.” “In addition to strict hygiene measures, the plan also provides for regular tests and health checks for the teams and all other employees,” he added.
But a British government insistence that all arrivals in the country undergo a two-week quarantine period could impact on plans for the British Grand Prix unless an exemption is made.
Smaller teams have also been under considerable financial pressure, with Williams announcing earlier this week that it was up for sale after running up a £13 million ($15.7 million) loss last year.