No Fans, Fewer Workers. How Hard Could Holding Races at Silverstone Be?

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No Fans, Fewer Workers. How Hard Could Holding Races at Silverstone Be?

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“Like nailing jelly to a wall,” said Stuart Pringle, managing director of Silverstone Circuits, on the difficulties of holding two grands prix on consecutive weekends and doing it under the restrictions imposed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The back-to-back races are part of Formula 1’s new schedule after the sport had to create a race calendar when the first 10 events were either canceled or postponed. So far, 13 races have been scheduled with more expected.

The first race at 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 held already, it will have no spectators in the stands.

The British government has forbidden mass gatherings, so sporting events are being held behind closed doors.

“It felt pretty empty,” Pringle said in an interview about last weekend’s race. “There was an odd atmosphere.” Last year, the circuit drew about 340,000 fans over the three days of the British Grand Prix weekend.

“But we have seen, from the races this year, that as soon as the lights go out it is business as usual on track,” he said, referring to the start of a race. “The sport is compelling because the action is there.”

The hurdles for the track to overcome have been numerous. “It was all coming together very nicely, and then the government announced in May it was going to introduce a 14-day quarantine period for anybody coming to the U.K.,” Pringle said. That would have had a huge effect on the sport because 70 percent of the teams are based in England.

“It looked to me, not so much that our events would be sunk, but actually the whole championship would be sunk,” he said. “If you can’t come in and out and turn around seven out of 10 teams, then you weren’t going to have a championship.”

The government relaxed the restrictions in June, granting Formula 1 personnel an exemption, which allowed racing to continue.

Pringle has worked closely with the government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, along with Formula 1 and the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile, the sport’s governing body, to ensure all the rules regarding Covid-19 are followed.

“Because this thing has been evolving all the time, it’s been so difficult to plan,” he said.

“Formula 1 and the F.I.A. have had to say, ‘These are going to be our rules,’” Pringle said. “This is what we’re going to try to achieve. They’ve been trying to get a one-size-fits-all solution to put on a global championship, and it’s been really difficult for them, and for us.

“And we’re not just beholden to our contract with F1 and to the sporting regulations and the F.I.A.; we have had to meet what the government requires of us at the same time. It has been really tricky to overlay all of these different interests and come out with the right solution.”

With no spectators, the number of staff members required at the track has dropped from 7,000 to just 800. Under the new rules, Silverstone has to record and track the movements of each of them, a procedure that the circuit has been learning.

“What we don’t have experience of are the operational protocols, of everything to do with testing, of maintaining track and trace records,” Pringle added. “We need to know everybody that’s coming onto site. We need to be able to account for them to the F.I.A.

“Because of an evolving system, we have had to rewrite procedures, amend documents or issue revisions because x and y have changed.”

With the added problems, Pringle would prefer 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’s easier and it’s guaranteed as far as these things can be within the unknowns of security. There’s a plan on the shelf. We take the plan off the shelf, we update a few bits and pieces. We go and deliver it.

“You may think: ‘How hard can it be? You’ve got no fans and less than 10 percent of the number of people to deal with.’ But it’s been hard. I’d rather do the other one.”

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