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F1 ‘set to reveal’ European leg to commence 2020 season

Hockenheim stages the 2019 German Grand Prix (by Charles Coates/Getty Images)

Formula 1 is reportedly set to reveal plans for an eight-race European leg to commence its 2020 season, with the caveat that this will depend on the Covid-19 situation in the UK.

Silverstone last week reached an agreement to stage two UK races behind closed doors this summer, while the regional government of Wallonia ruled that this year’s edition of the Belgian Grand Prix can also go ahead without fans.

Formula 1 last month 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, but has yet to issue a formal schedule. The motor racing championship has seen its 2020 calendar decimated by Covid-19, with the season-opening Australian GP in Melbourne on March 15 having been cancelled at short notice, kick-starting the suspension of action.

UK newspaper The Guardian said F1’s owner, Liberty Media, is due to announce a reshaped European calendar next week, with all events held behind closed doors. This schedule will reportedly commence with two grands prix in Austria on July 3-5, followed by a further two races at Silverstone.

F1 would then head to Budapest, with Hockenheim, Germany, or Barcelona then commencing a triple-header with Spa, Belgium and Monza, Italy. There are said to be no plans to run the Dutch GP, which was due to return to Zandvoort this season.

The UK serves as a hub for Formula 1, with seven of its 10 teams based there. The British government’s response to Covid-19 is therefore expected to be key to F1’s plans, with the championship reportedly pushing for an exemption to a mooted 14-day quarantine period for those entering the UK.

A second wave of the virus, and stiffening of lockdown rules, would further hit planning. “That is a major worry for everyone involved,” an F1 source told The Guardian.

Hockenheim staged the German GP last year but the future of the sport in one of its core markets has long been questioned with the two circuits that traditionally play host – Hockenheim and the Nürburgring – having endured long-term difficulties in gaining additional financial support to stage their events.

Hockenheim has said it is prepared to step in for Silverstone should Covid-19 restrictions prevent the Northamptonshire circuit from staging its races. Jorn Teske, managing director of the Hockenheim-Ring, told the Reuters news agency: “We are talking with F1, that’s correct. We have spoken about the idea of having a race without spectators here at the circuit. We already checked if this could be possible, from dates as well as the legal general point of view. For us, it is an option.”

Teske said that while it would need several weeks to organise a race, Hockenheim could move quickly on the technical side, adding that its lack of an existing contract would work in its favour. He said: “Others have a contract in place which might be a bit more complicated in regards to costs they had already and other costs coming up because of preparations which were initiated already.

“We can just say OK, if we find a time slot then we have these costs. And then we come together or not. This might be a little advantage in our talks. But we will see what happens. I think the most decisive (thing) is the current situation with quarantine in the UK.”

In other news, Formula 1 has agreed a two-year extension with Gfinity for the esports and gaming solutions provider to deliver the main elements of the F1 Esports Series in 2020 and 2021, and the 2022 qualifying events. In addition, the previously announced F1 Esports Virtual Grand Prix Series has been extended to June of this year.

As part of the agreement for the F1 Esports Series, in 2020 Gfinity will deliver the Pro Draft Reveal Show and the Pro Series. In 2021 Gfinity will deliver the Challenger Series qualifying events, Pro Draft live show and Pro Series; and in 2022, Gfinity will deliver the qualifying events.

Under the terms of the contract, Gfinity will deliver a dedicated account management team responsible for the delivery of all elements of the programme; a full league operations team responsible for writing all rules and governing the drivers participating in the tournament; and provide the use of ‘Race Control’, its proprietary in-race adjudication system. The Gfinity Arena in London will also be the main venue for live broadcasts.

Gfinity has been working with Formula 1 and Codemasters, a UK publisher of racing games, to design, develop and deliver the main elements of the F1 Esports Series since 2017. In addition, further to the announcement in March that Gfinity had been selected to deliver the new F1 Esports Virtual Grand Prix Series, the venture has now been extended until June.

The Virtual Grand Prix Series has been replacing each live grand prix that has been postponed due to Covid-19. The first race, the Virtual Bahrain Grand Prix, took place on March 22. Since then there have been four additional events for Vietnam, China, the Netherlands and Spain, and three F1 Esports Challenge Driver events.

John Clarke, chief executive of Gfinity, said: “Signing a multi-year agreement highlights our ability to leverage our unique position at the centre of the esports ecosystem to design and develop esports solutions for our clients. The Virtual Grand Prix Series has also caught the imagination of race fans, as shown by the amazing viewing numbers, and we are excited that a new, younger global audience is experiencing the F1 brand in a totally different way.”