Formula One unveils eight-race schedule from July 5

The curtailed Formula One season will start with two races behind closed doors in Austria on July 5 and July 12, the organizers said on Tuesday. (Reuters)
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Updated 03 June 2020

Formula One unveils eight-race schedule from July 5

  • The Hungarian Grand Prix will be brought forward to July 19 before a two-week break

PARIS: The curtailed Formula One season will start with two races behind closed doors in Austria on July 5 and July 12 followed by six other grands prix in Europe, the organizers said on Tuesday.

Formula One said it hoped to have between 15 and 18 races in total, with the season being completed in December.

The F1 season was thrown into chaos with the cancellation of the traditional curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix in March only hours before practice was due to begin as the coronavirus pandemic spread across the world.

Last week, the Austrian government sanctioned the season-opening double-header at the Spielberg circuit after F1 organizers “presented a complete and professional plan” to combat the COVID-19 outbreak.

The Hungarian Grand Prix will be brought forward to July 19 before a two-week break, followed by consecutive races in Britain and events in Spain, Italy and Belgium. All will likely be run without spectators while participants must adhere to strict safety protocols. Regular health tests will be conducted with the number of team members and race staff at the venue also reduced.

“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,” said F1 chief executive Chase Carey.

“But we know the return of Formula 1 will be a welcome boost to sports fans around the world.”

F1 managing director Ross Brawn last month said the Red Bull Ring circuit’s remote location made it a “logical” choice to stage the season’s first two races.

With a local airport, the races can be held in an isolated environment, essential in the fight against the pandemic that has killed less than 700 people in Austria, and more than over 375,000 worldwide.

“Red Bull have pulled out all the stops to get the Austrian Grand Prix up and running, in order to support a safe start to the Formula One season,” said team principal Christian Horner.

“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.

He added: “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.”

Silverstone will host two races in Britain on Aug. 2 and 9, with the Spanish Grand Prix set for Barcelona on Aug. 16.

The Belgian and Italian Grands Prix will take place on their original dates of Aug. 30 and Sept. 6, completing the European part of the season. Each event will also include the Formula 2 and Formula 3 categories.

The blueprint for the rehashed season features further races in Asia and the Americas in September, October and November before finishing in the Gulf in Bahrain and Abu Dhabi in December.

The 2020 season was to have featured a record 22 races, now it is set to be the shortest campaign since 2009 with races in Australia, Monaco, France and the Netherlands cancelled.


F1 season kicks off with astonishing, chaotic race in Austria

Updated 06 July 2020

F1 season kicks off with astonishing, chaotic race in Austria

  • Mercedes dominance, Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton leading the charge, and Red Bull providing the challenge

DUBAI: Formula 1 is back. And, for the majority of the season’s much delayed first race, it looked business as usual.

Mercedes dominance, Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton leading the charge, and Red Bull providing the challenge.

But this, despite Bottas’  eventual victory, would prove anything but an ordinary race, for so many reasons.

The Austrian Grand Prix, the first race of the shortened season, was, like all top class sporting events around the world, taking place with no fans inside the Red Bull Ring, a legacy of the spread of the Covid-19 virus.

The empty stands may have given this the initial look of a practice session, but the race would prove anything but routine.

This was a dramatic, often chaotic, return to action for Formula 1’s finest.

No doubt, the absence of motorsports’ most passionate and colorful fans, who in normal circumstances would have descended on Spielberg, Austria, were missed.

But for those watching on television, the truth is that the intensity of Formula1 action, unlike in football, and perhaps other team sports when they resume, is not overly affected by taking place behind closed doors.

 And it is something that the public will no doubt quickly adapt to. For now, only seven other rounds of the 2020 season have been confirmed; in Austria again (Red Bull Ring, July 10-12), will be followed by the Hungarian Grand Prix (July 17-19), two British Grand Prix races (Silverstone, July 31-Aug. 2 and Aug. 7-9); the Spanish Grand Prix (Barcelona, Aug. 14-16); Belgian Grand Prix (Spa-Francorchamps, 28-30); and the Italian Grand Prix (Monza, Sept. 4-6).

Other races are pending, and fans in the Middle East will be hoping that the restart continues to go according to plan, hopefully leading to the confirmation of the Bahrain Grand Prix later this year, and the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix as the season’s finale.

Before the race the drivers had worn anti-racism T-shirts, though there was an element of controversy when several drivers, including Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc chose not to take the knee like their  rivals. Both explained  their stance on their social media accounts.

The early stages as expected were dominated by Mercedes and Red Bull, with Bottas and  Hamilton separated in first and fourth by Verstappen and Alexander Albon in 2nd and third.

After the reigning champion Hamilton overtook Albon in the early stages, one of the race’s turning points saw Verstappen retire after gear failure. With fewer points on offer this season, this could turn out to be a decisive incident, even at this early stage.

Bottas and Hamilton, now in first and second, seemed to have the race under control for Mercedes.

Lap 28 saw the safety car come out, but when the green light came back on Bottas streaked away followed by Hamilton with Albon in third and British driver Lando Norris, excelling in a McLaren, in fourth.

Within seconds from the restart, Vettel’s Ferrari spun as he attempted to overtake Carlos Sainz, and though he avoided an accident, it meant he dropped to 15th.

Less than half way through the race, the Austrian Grand Prix was providing more drama and incidents than millions glued to their televisions could have dared hope for.

The race now settled into a battle between Bottas and Hamilton, and even another intervention of the safety car after 52 laps could not put them out of their stride.

Kimi Raikkonen’s exit with 15 laps meant seven drivers had retired.

 But with with five laps left, Hamilton was penalized five seconds for an accident with Albon. Suddenly second place, for long seemingly a lock for Mercedes, was now up for grabs. Indeed, so was third.

Hamilton, to ensure a podium finish needed to beat Norris (in fourth) by more than five seconds. But Norris saved his best till last, his fastest lap ensuring the gap between him and the champion was sub-five seconds.

Bottas was the first winner of the season, second place went to Leclerc and Ferrari, and a disbelieving Norris and McLaren team in third.

Hamilton, in the blink of an eye, dropped to fourth.

The podium presentation no doubt lacked its usual celebratory vibe, but try telling that to Leclerc and Norris who could not have dreamed of this conclusion.

 If the remainder of the 2020 races live up to this astionishing Austrian Grand Prix, Formula 1’s shortest season could turn out to be one of its best.