Silverstone boss Stuart Pringle says the full-capacity 2021 Formula 1 British Grand Prix is “designed to feel like 2019 and before” as part of the UK government’s COVID-19 lockdown-exit research.
After the 2020 British GP and the following 70th Anniversary GP were held behind closed doors when large-scale public events could not be held during the initial phases of the coronavirus pandemic, this weekend’s race is expected to be a sell-out, with up 140,000 fans attending on race day alone.
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton – a seven-time British GP race winner and the most recent victor in the event, with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen triumphing in the sole 70th Anniversary race – said last month when the news that fans would be allowed back to Silverstone for F1’s 2021 return was announced that he felt the decision was “premature”.
But Pringle told Motorsport.com that the event “will feel normal” because “restrictions are disapplied” as the British GP has been granted a place on the UK government’s Event Research Programme – a gradually expanding series of test events aimed at studying their impact on spreading COVID-19 before remaining social restrictions are lifted in England the day after the Silverstone race.
Attendees at ERP events are required to present a negative COVID-19 test result or evidence of full vaccination status in some cases.
“So, we are legally allowed to run a normal looking and feeling event,” Pringle said. “Because that's the purpose of the research. To see what happens, to learn the lessons.
“What the government is seeking to do is to have a weapon in its armoury that it can deploy later in the year - particularly in the winter, when one might expect a resurgence of a virus - in order to keep sports events running.
“Particularly football this winter. Because of what it means to the country, because of what it means to the sports economy and the local economies in the country.
“So, it's entirely logical that they should want to - having done a series of different test events at ever increasing scale. It's entirely logical that right at the end of the restriction period, they should trial a large event at full scale.
“The base point is that this is designed to feel like 2019 and before.”
When asked about Hamilton’s comment at the Styrian GP, Pringle said he understood the world champion’s concern, but stressed: “This is only happening because the government believes it is appropriate for it to take place.
He added: “So, this is not something that is Silverstone's decision alone. In fact, on the contrary, this is very much part of the government's strategy to understand events.
“And I suspect Lewis is probably not familiar with the graduated programme of Events Research that has been taking place in this country over the last few months.
“But, if it isn't safe, it won't be going ahead. And it won't be me deciding whether or not it's safe, it will be Public Health England, the Director of Public Health in Northamptonshire, and Her Majesty's Government and their scientific advisors.
“So, I understand why he might be concerned, and that's very typical of Lewis - he's always very thoughtful of his fans and there are many, many examples of how he particularly here at Silverstone goes out of his way to engage with them and be available and accessible to them.
“He puts the fans first - he's one of the drivers that genuinely puts the fans first.
“So, that sort of comment is entirely in keeping with his fan-centric nature. But I don't think there's anything he should worry about himself unduly about.”