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F1 plans July return

2019 Chinese GP
2019 Chinese GP

MUNICH: Formula One has long had a habit of trying to cram in as many races as possible but this season may take it to extremes.

This year's calendar was meant to start in Australia on March 15, but with all the teams already in Melbourne, the race was called off with two days' notice after McLaren personnel tested positive for the new coronavirus.

In total, nine Grands Prix have now been postponed or cancelled due to the pandemic, with most in F1 accepting the French race on June 28 will almost certainly have to be called off too.

That leaves the Austrian Grand Prix at Red Bull's own track in Spielberg on July 5 as a possible starting point, if the government gives the go ahead. After initial stringent lockdown measures, the Austrian authorities have begun to ease restrictions.

"Obviously a lot of research has gone on into how a race could be hosted without fans and the minimum amount of people in attendance," Red Bull team boss Christian Horner told Britain's Sun newspaper.

"Procedures would be put in place, including (virus) testing with team numbers reduced to around 80 people.

"The global crisis is bigger than our sport, but if you put a marker in the sand and say, July 5 is the starting point, if things change and get worse, they can always be changed," Horner added.

"It is all set up and ready to go. It is just a case of flicking the switch. It is a bespoke facility all geared up for F1."

The Red Bull Ring even has an airport very close if authorities wanted to further reduce potential contact.

But F1 bosses, whose original calendar included 22 races from March to November, are targeting 18 races in the season despite only starting in July.

That raises the obvious prospect of some tracks like Spielberg hosting double header races to avoid immediate travel to another destination where lockdown measures may be different and which potentially further exposes F1 personnel to the virus.

Helmut Marko, the motorsport adviser of the Red Bull team, told Austria's Oe3 radio last week that F1 is planning "two races, on Sundays, July 5 and 12," and that only a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic could change that.

Austrian Sports Minister Werner Kogler has said the government would "at least not stand in the way" of racing behind closed doors, which presumably would extend to two races.

A double header in Austria would open the door for other tracks to follow suit.

The British Grand Prix is slated for July 19 but Silverstone is also looking at holding two races.

"We have discussed all sorts of permutations including hosting two races over one weekend and two races over consecutive weekends," managing director Stuart Pringle told the Guardian last week.

"I have complete confidence in our ability to put on these events. We have a lot of experience, a lot of knowledge, we can turn that on definitely."

With seven of 10 teams based in England, two races at Silverstone would make sense. But the pandemic has taken real hold in Britain and the government there is cautious about lifting a lockdown too early.

Races at Silverstone would almost certainly have to be without spectators too, while there is speculation it could host a race on a Wednesday as well as a Sunday to quicken the pace of the season or even host three Grands Prix.

Pringle expects F1 bosses to announce a new calendar in early May.

Only Monaco is definitely cancelled, raising the prospect of venues whose races have already been postponed reappearing on the schedule. It is a huge undertaking but F1 always likes to think big. -- dpa

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