Chase Carey has given the clearest indication yet that the 2020 Formula 1 World Championship now has a starting date with the Austrian Grand Prix planned to go ahead on July 3-5.

That would be nearly four months after the sport suffered a disastrous false start in Australia when the entire paddock travelled to the other side of the world amid intense scrutiny of its ‘business as usual’ approach in the face of a worsening coronavirus crisis, only to turn back and head home.

That together with the realisation since that normality seems a long way off for everyone, let alone in the context of an international multi-billion dollar sport, means the F1 chief’s confidence of 15-18 races seems ambitious at best, pie in the sky at worst.

However, one would assume there is a more developed plan in place than is being revealed publicly for now, so should the much-delayed curtain raiser go ahead in Austria as planned, what could the spectator-less calendar look like thereafter?

Firstly, three events are formally off the schedule – Australia, Monaco and France – though they are unlikely to be the only victims of force majeure.

As it stands, seven events – all originally scheduled before Austria – are listed ‘postponed’ with no formal date attached to them.

Of these, the Circuit de Catalunya-Barcelona has indicated it will keep its schedule open to welcome F1 back in the summer, while the Gilles Villeneuve Circuit in Canada – located on Ile Notre Dame - appears well located in the current circumstances, though time appears to be running out to squeeze it in before the weather turns in Montreal.

Bahrain was already heading towards a closed-door race before the crisis brought everything to a shuddering halt so expect it to be flexible with a new date, a cause no doubt aided by the year-round climate that can place it right at the end of the year if necessary.

Ironically, China – the source of the coronavirus outbreak and the first event to be postponed back in February – could be back on as its major cities appear to be getting back to some normality, depending if you trust the reports coming from the country.

However, the sport’s return to the Netherlands and Zandvoort looks set to be deferred to 2021 due to the nation’s strict rules on mass gatherings until September, with a similar restriction set to scupper the Spa-Francorchamps race in neighbouring Belgium too.

There remain some question marks as to whether street races – the delayed Vietnam and Azerbaijan races, plus the scheduled Singapore Grand Prix – could realistically run spectator-free events in the heart of a city centre. However, F1 has indicated that it hopes to restrictions will be eased to allow spectators at some stage, so they could still feature provisionally.

With this in mind, how does F1 propose to meet that races tally? The 15-18 number appears to hinge more on venues being able to host more than one race, whether that is on the same weekend or on back-to-back weekends.

According to Bild.de, the first three events on the provisional schedule are double-header rounds at the Red Bull Ring, Silverstone and at the Hungaroring. These alone would account for six races, giving the sport some flexibility when it comes to deciding which of the remaining scheduled events can feature.

Of those, Russia and Abu Dhabi perhaps look most likely to host more than one race as two of the more isolated venues, just leaving a question mark over Italy, Singapore, Japan, USA, Mexico and Brazil, nations that are all at a varying degree of stages with the handling of this crisis.

By then F1 will no doubt be hoping the world has emerged from the other side of this crisis to end this abnormal season as normally possible…

 

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