Testing will be the new normal although the costs for sporting events like Formula One could be high.
Formula One’s plan to test everyone at a circuit as a condition of returning to racing will involve a huge cost outlay as private tests are sought to avoid health service suppliers. Even with grands prix held behind closed doors, more than 1,000 people per venue would need to be tested.
F1 hopes to begin the delayed season in Austria subject to constraints imposed by the coronavirus pandemic. Organisers hope to hold up to 18 races, beginning with a double-header on 5 July that is likely to be followed by a further two races at Silverstone. Even behind closed doors, large numbers of personnel will still have to be present at the meetings and will be required to test negative for the virus.
Stuart Pringle, the managing director of Silverstone, confirmed that plans were already being put in place. “F1 is talking about their need to implement some sort of testing regime if they are to take the championship on its global travels,” he said. “That seems to be a necessity and it won’t be straightforward or cheap. F1 feels it needs to be clear that everybody in the paddock environment is testing negative.”
Pringle also warned that there was no guarantee the British Grand Prix would go ahead even behind closed doors. It was, he said “not a given”. The ultimate decision was still subject to national restrictions caused by the coronavirus. F1 remains in discussion with the government regarding the race. “I’m confident we could operate well within F1’s decision-making cycle,” he said of the circuit’s preparations. “They are the ones who have got to make the decision.”
It is understood the sport will be paying to perform the testing and would be sourcing the required equipment privately from specific companies that are not supplying to the health service.
Governments will require evidence of race personnel testing negative before allowing entry for the foreseeable future. Austria already has such a stipulation and that tests should be not be more than four days old.
The scale of testing will be extensive. F1 teams are still expected to take around 80 staff each – 800 across the grid. All others required to travel to a race will be tested, including broadcasters, F1 personnel and logistical staff, likely to add at least a further 200.
Pringle dismissed suggestions that Silverstone could host a race in the reverse direction for double-header meetings. Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc recently expressed his excitement at the possibility of driving Silverstone in the anticlockwise direction.
However, with the runoff areas and exit access points all designed for clockwise racing, it would be impossible to adjust the track in time. “It certainly wouldn’t comply to the current safety standards,” said Pringle. “They would have to lower the standards which would be unlikely or we would have to do a load of work which would not be practical in the current climate.”
The Hungarian Grand Prix, scheduled for 2 August, will also take place behind closed doors. Hungary recently banned events for more than 500 people until 15 August.
Even without fans F1 would exceed that figure but the race is being classed as a broadcast-only event and given permission to go ahead. With the calendar being rewritten, Hungary is also likely to move to later in the season as F1 attempts to squeeze in further races in Europe. Both the Hockenheimring in Germany and Imola in Italy have offered to host meetings behind closed doors if their cost were to be met by F1.
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Photo Credit: The 2014 Formula 1 Shell Belgian Grand Prix. Formula 1 is looking to restart its season in a limited fashion. Marcel T / Flickr.com