Austria's push to host GP provides F1 with toughest coronavirus call yet

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Formula 1 bosses may face their toughest decision yet amid the coronavirus, as Austria tries to push ahead with its Grand Prix in July.

So far, the first nine races of the 2020 calendar have been postponed or cancelled due to Covid-19, with the French GP set to make that 10 in the coming days.

In addition, doubts are rising over two of the sport's most historic races in Britain and Belgium, with the latter country announcing a ban on mass gatherings until the end of August on Wednesday.

Austria, however, is different as the country has seen a relatively tame outbreak with 14,350 cases reported with over half of those now recovered and 384 deaths.

Sensing then that the coronavirus has passed its peak, the government is starting to slowly ease restrictions, though some experts have warned it may still be too early.

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And as for the Grand Prix, sports minister and vice-chancellor Werner Kogler has backed the idea of a closed-door race.

“We don’t want to stand in the way,” he said in a press conference. “This is a completely different situation than games in a stadium. Several people are affected.

“The minimum distance rules would have to be observed in the same way, of course, but that seems possible.

“I don’t want to hide the fact that I’m in contact with the Styrian governor in this regard. This would be in the existing calendar in July.

“Ultimately, the sports federations must decide that for themselves and that I was also in contact with Helmut Marko, who for his part plays a corresponding role at Red Bull and has acted as a mediator," he revealed.

“I told him I would like to honour this, that we will forward all the applicable guidelines to the relevant motorsport associations as a service so that they can see what is possible or not.”

Marko, Red Bull's motorsport advisor, has been vocal in stating his confidence the race will take place and even F1 team boss Christian Horner is adding his support to the event.

"The Red Bull Ring is a ready-made facility, it can be ready in a very short period of time to fit the FIA's criteria," he told Sky Sports. "The prospect of being able to run a race behind closed doors is absolutely feasible.

"Of course in Formula 1 there is more distance between the competitors, they've got helmets on etc, so there is that natural distancing as well.

"It's something that Austria and Red Bull are looking at but of course they've got to work with the local authorities and governments and so, at the moment, it's just under discussion."

With this the first race then where the promoters are unlikely to pull the plug, it falls on F1 and Liberty Media to decide if they will postpone the event or not, a decision most think they got wrong in Australia.

“First of all, as always, the most important thing is to protect our people,” McLaren F1 team boss Andreas Seidl said via RaceFans. “So definitely [we] can’t go back to racing until we definitely know that our people are safe.

“The travel guidelines, the guidelines we get for our daily life, we need to see if that allows us to travel out and back into our home countries. It’s important, obviously, we need to wait for what the different countries are deciding, whether races should happen.

“Also we need to see what the promoters are deciding because especially with the changes of dates for a lot of races, the promoters also need to be up for it and it needs to make sense from the commercial point of view also, for the promoters for Formula 1."

In addition to the clear barriers to holding a race, the German also noted factors that perhaps aren't so obvious.

“What I think is an important point is the public acceptance of life events happening again," he continued.

"I think it’s important that we only go back to go racing once we also have certainty that when it comes down to protective equipment, to the number of tests for people that this is all in place and available to people that actually need it and that we are not the ones burning these tests or these materials just for going back racing.

“I think there’s a big desire from people, from the public, from the fans that especially this lockdown situation we are all in at the moment that sporting events are happening again, even if it’s just on TV," Seidl noted.

"But again obviously there’s a lot of different aspects that need to be considered.”