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F1 lining up ‘biosphere’ model for season start

Ross Brawn, managing director (sporting) of Formula 1, at the 2019 Brazilian Grand Prix (by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

Formula 1 has set out plans to establish a “biosphere” to enable its 2020 season to commence amid the ongoing spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, as the Hungarian Grand Prix became the latest race to confirm it would have to be held behind closed doors.

The motor-racing championship’s stakeholders are currently attempting to draw up a new calendar for the 2020 campaign. Last week, F1 outlined plans to commence its delayed 2020 season in Austria on July 3-5 as part of a reduced calendar consisting of 15 to 18 races.

The championship has seen its 2020 calendar decimated by Covid-19, with Montreal’s Canadian GP last month becoming the ninth race to be either postponed or cancelled.

F1 chief executive Chase Carey last week said the championship is “increasingly confident” with the progress of plans to begin the season, which should have started with the Australian GP in Melbourne on March 15, this summer.

Some of the early rounds of the season are expected to become double headers, and F1’s managing director of motorsports, Ross Brawn, has now fleshed out the thinking behind the revamped calendar.

Speaking to the official F1 podcast, F1 Nation, Brawn said: “One of the logistical challenges is getting everyone tested and cleared to enter the paddock and enter the racing environment.

“And I think once we do that, it’s very attractive to keep everyone in that environment, within that kind of biosphere that we want to create for another race. It’s also pretty challenging to find the right sort of races early on where we can control the environment well enough.

“Austria fits that bill very well. It’s got a local airport right next to the circuit, where people can charter planes into. It’s not too close to a metropolis, it has a great infrastructure around it. There will be no motorhomes, but there will be full catering facility laid on that the circuit has. We can basically contain everyone within that environment. Therefore once we’re there, it’s appealing to have another race the following week.”

Carey’s statement last week was preceded by announcements from GIP Grand Prix de France – Le Castellet and Silverstone, host of the British GP.

French GP organisers said that, due to the government ban on major events and maintaining the closure of the Schengen area until further notice, along with the recent decisions announced by the government to fight against the spread of Covid-19, it was impossible for the race to continue on its intended date of June 28.

Meanwhile, Silverstone is making plans to host the British GP behind closed doors on July 19, potentially followed by another race a week later.

Hungarian GP officials on Friday announced the same closed-doors scenario for their race in Budapest, currently scheduled for August 2, after the government banned any event involving more than 500 spectators until August 15.

A statement from the Hungaroring circuit read: “In recent weeks, we have been constantly voicing that we are open to any solution in order to host the Grand Prix again this year, and it became clear yesterday that all this is only possible behind closed gates. We will continue to work with the international promoter to find the best possible solution.”

Brawn said F1 is determined to get the 2020 season underway despite the “massive logistical challenge” of organising races amid restrictions on travel and measures regarding social distancing.

He added: “We’re working our way through all the requirements to make sure we operate in a safe environment for the drivers, for the engineers, for the technicians, for everyone involved in the race, and we put on the right sort of show.

“Unfortunately it will be without fans, which is a great shame, but we still feel we can take the race out to all the fans who watch us on TV and other means. It’s important for us to try and get the season going. One (reason) is obviously to excite the fans, who have all been frustrated by the delays. We’ve got a very exciting season in front of us.

“But it’s a very important livelihood for thousands of people, it’s another reason for trying to kick-start the season.”