Renault managing director Cyril Abiteboul fears a full winter will be needed to convince some promoters that it is safe to have fans at Formula 1 races again.
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to the delay of the start of the F1 season, with the opening round set to take place next weekend in Austria. Eight races have so far been announced on the schedule in six different countries, but all are planned to be held behind closed doors at this stage and Abiteboul thinks the following season is when normality is likely to return from a fan perspective.
“With grandstands full of people cheering for their heroes, full of flags, full of everything — it can be up to 120,000 people at a grand prix like Silverstone in the UK — I don’t know, it may take a while,” Abiteboul said during title sponsor DP World’s Enabling Smarter Conversations series. “We are bracing ourselves for a season that will be mostly behind closed doors with different set of economics, obviously, given the circumstances but hopefully we will be able to have a very small fan attendance over the course of the summer.
“I don’t have any of my own predictions but looking at the way the pandemic has been developing and fluctuating and been more in control in Europe, to me it looks like we may have to wait for a complete cycle, a complete winter before we find some promoters who are prepared to take the economic risk to set up a race with grandstands with full attendance.
“So that is why the main concern has been to protect the sport, to protect Formula 1 for next year, when we think that it will be all back to normal.”
While there have been accusations of opportunism at times in F1 in recent months, Abiteboul says his overriding feeling is that people were open and honest about the problems that needed addressing amid the crisis.
“The challenges (are ones) that we were absolutely not prepared to face — we have all reacted with our guts. It’s completely uncharted territory. We have not been prepared for these circumstances at school or by the experience of life.
“But there is one thing that I have actually enjoyed in the time of this very difficult crisis. It’s the fact that everyone was extremely open and transparent about the difficulties that they were facing. In a world where sometimes it feels like people keep their cards close to their chest, for once everyone opened themselves up and I think we have been able to accomplish an awful lot with partners, with staff, with suppliers, simply because the situation was commanding a business behavior or a business ethos completely different to what happens normally.
“To a certain degree, frankly, I think I have found certain things much more healthy, much more direct and much more transparent and we’ve been able to cope with the circumstances, with the situation and with the challenge thanks to the openness.
“That’s what I liked about that situation — that it was bigger than all of us which we are all a part of and we’ve done so much. I would like to think that some people are starting to think about how they would like the world to change after that.”