“Like nailing jelly to a wall,” said Stuart Pringle, CEO of Silverstone Circuits, about the difficulty of holding two grand prix on consecutive weekends and doing so under the constraints imposed by coronavirus pandemic.
Back-to-back races are part of Formula 1’s new schedule after the sport had to create a race calendar, as the first 10 events were either canceled or exposed. So far, 13 races are planned with more expected.
The first race in Silverstone, the British Grand Prix, was held last Sunday, and this Sunday will be the fifth round of the world championship, the Formula 1 70th anniversary Grand Prix. Like the races already held, it has no spectators in the stands.
The British government has banned mass gatherings, so that sporting events are held behind closed doors.
“It felt pretty empty,” Pringle said in an interview last weekend. “There was a strange atmosphere.” Last year, the circuit attracted around 340,000 fans during the three days of the British Grand Prix weekend.
“But we have seen from the races this year that as soon as the light goes out, it is as usual on the track,” he said, referring to the start of a race. “The sport is compelling because the action is there.”
The obstacles to overcoming the course have been numerous. “It all came together very nicely, and then the government announced in May that it would impose a 14-day quarantine period for anyone who came to the UK,” Pringle said. It would have had a huge impact on the sport because 70 per cent of the teams are based in England.
“It seemed to me, not so much that our events would be sunk, but in fact the whole championship would be sunk,” he said. “If you can not get in and out and turn seven out of ten teams, you would not have a championship.”
The government eased the restrictions in June and gave Formula 1 staff an exemption that allowed racing to continue.
Pringle has worked closely with the government’s Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport together with Formula 1 and the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile, the governing body of sport, to ensure compliance with all Covid-19 rules.
“Because this thing has been evolving all the time, it has been so hard to plan,” he said.
“Formula 1 and the FIA have had to say, ‘These will be our rules,'” Pringle said. “This is what we will try to achieve. They have been trying to get a one-size-fits-all solution to create a global championship and it has been really difficult for them and for us.
And we not only see our contract with F1 and sports rules and the FIA; we have had to meet what the government demands of us at the same time. It has been really difficult to put all these different interests over and come up with the right solution. ”
Without spectators, the number of employees required on the pitch has dropped from 7,000 to just 800. Under the new rules, Silverstone must record and track the movements of each of them, a procedure that the circuit has learned.
“What we do not have experience with is the operational protocols, everything that has to do with testing, maintenance of track and trace records,” Pringle added. “We need to know everyone who comes to the place. We need to be able to account for them to the FIA
“Because of a system that is under development, we have had to rewrite procedures, change documents, or issue changes because x and y have changed.”
With the added trouble, Pringle prefers a normal grand prix weekend with a third of a million fans and thousands more workers.
“We know what we’re doing there,” he said. “It is easier and it is guaranteed as far as these things can be within the unknown of security. There is a plan on the shelf. We take the plan off the shelf, we update a few. We go and deliver it.
You may be thinking, ‘How hard can it be? You have no fans and less than 10 percent of the number of people to deal with. ‘But it has been difficult. I’d rather do the other one. ”