Sebastian Vettel believes the Formula One season will only resume as “ghost races” – without fans and behind closed doors.
Talks with fellow drivers have put the health and welfare of Formula One personnel and fans first when racing does get under way, and the Ferrari driver acknowledged the number of F1 races will be dictated by the workload it places on teams’ staff.
The next scheduled race is the French Grand Prix on 28 June, but it is expected to be called off as a result of government restrictions. The following one is in Austria on 5 July and the the country’s sports minister, Werner Kogler, has said there would be no opposition to the race going ahead behind closed doors.
Vettel accepts this may be the only way F1 can return to the track. “Probably the first couple of races will be a bit compromised,”he said. “Nobody likes to race in front of empty grandstands but the question is obviously when is the right time to start racing and whether a ghost race [without fans] could be held a lot sooner than a race as we are used to it.”
Nine meetings have been called off this season and more are likely to follow but F1 management is still optimistic it can host a substantial calendar. The sporting director, Ross Brawn, believes 19 meetings could still be held if racing begins in July.
That will hit F1’s income but Vettel said the drivers, represented by the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association(GPDA), will put safety first.
“We have spoken about when we might return to racing a fair amount inside the GPDA. It is very difficult, it is a tough decision. You have the health of the sport, from a business aspect, but on the other hand you have the responsibility to the people working in the paddock and most importantly the fans. A lot of people come to watch our races; we need to make sure that as much as we are taking care of ourselves we are taking care of the public.”
F1 is considering running a series of triple-headers in order to fit in more meetings. “We will probably have more races, they will be more packed but the limit should be the people,” Vettel said. “It should be respected that they need a break, it’s not realistic to have 10 back-to-back race weekends.”