The new season of Formula One looks set to commence in Austria on July 5, comprising up to 18 races this year, with the opening meetings being held behind closed doors.
A statement from the F1 group came on the heels of the cancellation of the French Grand Prix and the announcement that if the British Grand Prix goes ahead this year it will be behind closed doors.
F1 has been in extensive planning and discussions regarding the new season, and it was expected that the first meeting would be Austria, where lockdown restrictions have already been relaxed.
Chairman of the F1 group, Chase Carey, said in a statement: “We are now increasingly confident with the progress of our plans to begin our season this summer.
“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.”
Indicating that potential plans to extend the season into January 2021 had not been pursued, Carey added: “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.”
He also promised that they would publish a finalised calendar “as soon as we possibly can”.
A decision had been expected from Silverstone on the feasibility of holding the British Grand Prix with fans present in late April, the upshot of which was that this would not be possible.
The circuit is now holding talks with the department for digital, culture, media and sport to consider whether a race behind closed doors on July 19 would be a viable option.
Carey’s statement went on: “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 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.”
With no way of recouping hosting fees for meetings held behind closed doors, the assumption is that F1 would have to waive the fees in order for the races to take place.
Such fees are among the largest sources of income for F1, and their loss will amount to a major financial blow for the organisation. However, holding races, even behind closed doors, will go some way to meeting commitments to broadcasters and sponsors.
It is likely that current dates for the remaining grands prix on the calendar will shift to later into the year, and Silverstone has already said it is willing to move the British event.
Ticket holders for this year’s race can claim a refund or carry their tickets over to 2021, and Silverstone has also announced that it will give away thousands of tickets to NHS and key workers for next year’s race.