LONDON (Reuters) - Formula One starts its season in Austria this week with teams, drivers and fans coming to terms with the ‘new normal’ as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The following details some of the changes:
The opening races of the season will, for the first time, be held behind closed doors with no fans, sponsors, VIPs or guests and limits on the number of people allowed in. Teams can have no more than 80 staff each (compared with the usual 130), with an operational core of 60. The atmosphere will be very different -- the average three-day attendance at a Formula One weekend is around 150,000.
Anyone travelling to Austria must first test negative for COVID-19 and then undergo tests every five days, and immediately if they show symptoms. There will be temperature checks, social distancing and ‘bubbles within bubbles’ with the teams isolated socially within the overall paddock bubble. There will be minimal interaction between teams and face masks will have to be worn by mechanics and engineers for much of the time.
Most of the media briefings and news conferences will be conducted online, via Zoom or other means. The paddock and track will be off limits to the few media in attendance.
The paddock will look very different. The palatial team ‘motorhome’ hospitality units will not be used. Instead, awnings and tents will be set up behind garages to give team members more space under distancing guidelines, with the trucks moved further back.
Before the race, each team will be limited to 40 people on the starting grid. Drivers will not stand together for the national anthem and the grid process will be speeded up.
There will be no podium celebrations after the race. Formula One has yet to confirm details but expect a formal prizegiving on the track, with distancing between drivers and the trophies already in place rather than being handed over by local dignitaries.
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ken Ferris
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