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F1 season set for Austria start as French Grand Prix cancelled

Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc negotiates the Le Castellet track in the 2019 French Grand Prix – but this year’s race has been cancelled © AFP/File / GERARD JULIEN

Paris, France, Apr 27 – Formula One boss Chase Carey on Monday targeted the coronavirus-hit season starting in Austria on July 5 after the French Grand Prix was cancelled and fans barred from the British race at Silverstone.

The French Grand Prix, which was to have been held on June 28, was the 10th race of the season to be scrapped or postponed.

“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,” Carey said in a statement.

“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.”

Carey’s statement followed quickfire announcements from the French organisers and the owners of the Silverstone track where the British Grand Prix is due to take place on July 19.

“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 race’s managing director Eric Boullier said.

France joins nine other races in the slashed 2020 championship to be either cancelled (Australia, Monaco) or postponed (Bahrain, China, Vietnam, Netherlands, Spain, Azerbaijan, Canada).

The fate of the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps on August 30 remains uncertain, with mass gatherings banned in the country until the following day.

Organisers of the race at Le Castellet were forced to act after President Emmanuel Macron’s announcement last week that the lockdown in France will be extended until May 11 and public gatherings banned until mid-July.

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Ruling out holding the race behind closed doors, Boullier said: “Le Castellet are already turning towards the summer of 2021”.

– ‘Races without fans’ –

In the next of a series of announcements, Silverstone’s owners declared that no spectators would be able to attend the British Grand Prix but that they hope it will go ahead as scheduled.

“I am extremely disappointed to tell you that we are unable to stage this year’s British Grand Prix in front of the fans at Silverstone,” the circuit’s managing director Stuart Pringle stated on Silverstone’s Twitter account.

“We have left this difficult decision for as long as possible, but it is abundantly clear given the current conditions… that a grand prix under normal conditions is just not going to be possible.”

F1 chief Chase Carey hopes season will eventually start in Austria © AFP / Nhac NGUYEN

F1 supremo Carey said he expected “the early races to be without fans” but hoped that spectators would be allowed back “as we move further into the schedule”.

He added: “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 health and safety of all involved will continue to be priority one and we will only go forward if we are confident we have reliable procedures to address both risks and possible issues.”

The American said F1 would publish its finalised calendar “as soon as we possibly can”.

After the opening Australian Grand Prix was cancelled the traditional summer workshop shutdown was brought forward to April/March to free up the August break to help complete the truncated season.

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Both Silverstone and Austria’s Spielberg circuit have floated the notion of staging back-to-back races.

With races cancelled and others due to be staged behind closed doors, the glamorous global sport has moved to help some of the less well-heeled teams on the grid absorb the financial hit.

Last week, Greg Maffei, the chief executive of Formula One owners Liberty Media, said an undisclosed number of payments had been made to teams, which rely heavily on profit-sharing from F1 to survive.

“We want to make sure that teams are solvent because they are part of what we need to race successfully in 2020, 2021, and beyond,” he said.

Other measures to help insulate against the effects of the health crisis include postponing a major rule change from 2021 to 2022 and requiring teams to race this year’s cars next season.


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