Has Silverstone boss been over optimistic?

30/04/2020
NEWS STORY

No sooner had Chase Carey announced that F1 is still targeting up to 18 races this year, than Silverstone managing director, Stuart Pringle was adding to fans delight by confirming that the legendary Northamptonshire track is aiming to host at least one round.

Expressing his sadness that the Silverstone race(s) would take place behind closed doors, Pringle admitted that this was the only way the event could take place - an event given extra meaning this year as the sport celebrates the 70th anniversary of the first ever round of the Formula One World Championship, which took place at the former airfield in 1950.

"We have left this difficult decision for as long as possible," he said, "but it is abundantly clear given the current conditions in the country and the Government requirements in place now and for the foreseeable future, that a Grand Prix under normal conditions is just not going to be possible.

"Our obligations to protect the health and safety of everyone involved in preparing and delivering the event, our volunteer marshals and race makers, and of course, you, the amazing fans, means that this is the best, safest and only decision we could make."

However, in a subsequent interview, he admits that even without spectators and with team personnel numbers stripped down to the bare minimum, the event may still not meet the guidelines recommended by the government in terms of public gatherings.

"Even with no public this will be a reasonable size gathering," he admits to Motorsport.com, "and there will be the compliances with all the new procedures and protocols that we'll have to adhere to. We don't know what those are yet, and we don't know how to implement them."

Unlike Helmet Marko, Pringle hasn't mentioned support events, nonetheless, we are talking of a significant amount of people.

"You've got the basics of making it look smart for television," he says, in terms of preparing for the event, "painting the kerbs and cutting the grass... although it's a lot more than just that! People don't want to see Silverstone looking scruffy.

"One of the ways F1 is looking to make this work is to have centralised catering," he adds, "so that will be quite a large task, to be able to feed a couple of thousand people every day."

Got that, "a couple of thousand".

"There's a lot of detail to work through still," he admits. "I think we need to be quite careful, and it's not just what we can or can't do in this country, it's how does that fit with a season? Because they're not going to want to start something that they can't conclude.

"Clearly there is will on everybody's part to find a solution that works. But there's still some work to do.

"This is not a slam dunk," he adds. "It's not a straightforward piece of work, it's still quite a big race meeting. The FIA have got to come in, the track has got to be compliant.

"This is all set against a backdrop of 70% of our staff being furloughed, so at the moment we don't have people in the business to be able to stand this up.

"If it's going to take place then we're going to need to get people back, which will be great, nothing will be better for morale within the business, but it does require a little bit of planning time.

"The prime minister is quite rightly cautioning against any anticipation about releasing the lockdown, but we're in April, and we're talking about something in July. One hopes that if we're all disciplined and hold our nerve and remain consciously adhering to the government advice we'll get to a point in the summer where this should seem like a reasonable and sensible thing to occur."

In Austria, those "couple of thousand people" will remain within the confines of the Spielberg facility, and one presumes that this will be the case at Silverstone also.

However, other than the risk of unintentionally bringing the virus to the locale, there is obvious concern that an event of this size might divert much needed services away from the long-suffering public.

"I'm very conscious that it's extremely important we are self-contained from a medical services point of view," says Pringle. "I'm sure that will be one of the conditions that government will set, that the sport does not become a drain on medical services, and we would not consider running if there was any risk that we would be so.

"Our chief medical officer has already done a lot of work on whether or not we could do one or two weekends without being a burden on the NHS.

"And bear in mind that although we have very good, comprehensive medical facilities ourselves, we do at a normal Grand Prix send quite a few people to hospital – but they're all members of the public, or the lion's share of them. The on-track risk is much more managed and measured."

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Published: 30/04/2020
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