Silverstone will host two grands prix in August after Formula One announced plans to start the delayed 2020 season next month, but the circuit’s managing director admits there were concerns it could miss out altogether.
Formula One on Tuesday unveiled an eight-race European calendar, with Silverstone to host the British Grand Prix on August 2 and the Formula One 70th Anniversary Grand Prix – named in celebration of the Northamptonshire circuit staging the first World Championship event in 1950 – on August 9.
The season will begin with a doubleheader at Austria’s Red Bull Ring on July 5 and 12 before the Hungarian Grand Prix on July 19, with further events in Spain on August 16, Belgium on August 30 and Italy on September 6.
Silverstone had originally been pencilled in to follow on immediately after Austria, but its place came under threat after the UK Government announced plans to impose a 14-day quarantine period on travellers arriving into the country from June 8 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Formula One has now been granted an exemption to those regulations, but only after the British races were pushed back in the calendar amid concerns an alternative venue overseas might be needed.
“I have absolutely no criticism for the UK Government and the way they have carefully moved forward to coming up with solutions for sport behind closed doors,” Silverstone’s managing director Stuart Pringle told the PA news agency.
“But yes, there was a time where the UK Government’s view on sport returning, the timescale and whether that was going to coincide with F1’s requirements or whether other countries were going to be able to offer more certainty earlier, that was a risk.
“The 14-day quarantine has been a concern but F1 has satisfied the Government that its testing regime is extremely comprehensive and will give all the necessary guarantees that people are clear of the virus when they come back to the UK.”
F1 has outlined five key measures – ongoing testing, closed doors, minimal personnel, isolated travel and social distancing – to keep racing as safe as possible amid the pandemic, in addition to the conditions set by the UK Government.
“The requirements set for us and all other sports (by the Government) are in line with the planning assumptions we have been working on to date and I don’t see anything we’re not going to be able to meet,” Pringle said.
“We’re well advanced with plans to do that.”
Eight races is the minimum number required to determine a world champion under the sport’s regulations, but F1’s owners Liberty Media hope the European calendar is just the beginning as it looks to announce further races in Asia and the Americas, with the goal of staging up to 18 grands prix this year.
Formula One chairman Chase Carey said: “We are pleased to be able to set out our opening eight-race calendar today and look forward to publishing our full calendar in the coming weeks…
“While we currently expect the season to commence without fans at our races we hope that over the coming months the situation will allow us to welcome them back once it is safe to do, but we know the return of Formula 1 will be a welcome boost to sports fans around the world.”
Drivers and teams welcomed the announcement of the calendar as the countdown to racing begins once again, more than two and a half months after the Australian Grand Prix was cancelled at the 11th hour as the virus began to spread around the globe.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen wrote on Twitter: “Counting down to the start of the 2020 F1 season . Only 33 days left to the first race .”
Williams driver George Russell reacted on Twitter by posting: “LETTTSSS GOOO!!!”
Red Bull may have their base in Milton Keynes but given their Austrian ownership they consider the Spielberg circuit which bears their sponsor’s name to be their home, and team principal Christian Horner said it would be special to begin the season there.
“It’s a fantastic venue and we are pleased to be starting our championship campaign at our home circuit,” Horner said. “It has been a huge effort by all involved and the two events at the Red Bull Ring will be a blueprint for all other races to follow.
“There was obviously a huge amount of discussion behind the scenes with Liberty, the FIA and the local authorities to ensure that returning to racing is done responsibly and we all have our part to play in order to enforce the measures in place.
“With the first eight races of the calendar now confirmed we have some positive momentum. As a race team and racers, we are excited to get going again and put on a show for our fans.”