Organizers of Formula One motor racing say that they expect Grand Prix racing to begin in July. The first race is likely to be held in Austria, but spectators may not be allowed to attend the circuit.
The high-profile race series was set to have begun its 2020 season in Melbourne on March 15. But as events organizers around the world woke up to the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic that race was called off and the beginning of the season delayed.
Since that time, numerous other Formula One races, including those in Vietnam and China, announced delays. The series organizers have scrambled to reschedule some of them, and are still not yet able to announce how many will go ahead at different dates.
Before Monday, eight races had been postponed, but only one – the season’s most glamorous and prestigious, in Monaco – had been outright cancelled. Monday’s restart announcement, was accompanied by a separate announcement that the French Grand Prix, at Le Castellet, is also cancelled and will not be held in 2020.
“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. 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,” said Chase Carey, Formula One chief.
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“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.”
The logistics of restarting the season have been complicated not only by travel restrictions in the host countries, but also by the lockdowns in Europe, where the virus has killed thousands. Most race teams are based in the U.K., one of the worst hit countries, while Ferrari is based in Italy’s Lombardy region, also a virus epicenter.
Current plans will see two races in Austria, on July 5 and a week later on July 12. They will be followed by two in the U.K., at Silverstone, on July 19, and July 26. The track operators have said that Silverstone will not allow public admission.
Government health decisions and the reemergence of the virus as travel restrictions are eased could yet change Formula One’s plans again. While the decision to keep fans away deprives the individual race organizers of ticket revenue, they and the teams may be able to earn from sponsorship, advertising and the TV rights.
The cancelation of the Melbourne race was chaotic. Teams comprising cars, drivers and hundreds of mechanics had all flown from Europe to Australia ready to begin. But the decision to cancel was only announced to the public on what should have been the first day of practice – by which time some of the drivers had already flown out.
Lewis Hamilton, reigning world champion, and six times winner of the title, remains favorite to win the shortened 2020 season.