The British Grand Prix is set to be reprieved after Boris Johnson intervened personally to ensure that two Formula One races can go ahead at Silverstone this summer despite the 14-day coronavirus quarantine restrictions.
In a huge boost for British sports events, the prime minister has told cabinet ministers that they should work towards making sure that the double header of races planned for July 26 and August 2 can happen behind closed doors.
There had been fears that the government’s decision not to give professional sport a blanket exemption from the quarantine, which affects travellers coming into the UK, would mean the races could not take place owing to the large number of personnel that would need to come in and out of Britain.
Whitehall insiders say that the door had been left open for sport to make a case-by-case appeal to obtain exemptions or work within the restrictions. It also makes it much more likely that West Indies and Pakistan cricket teams can tour England this summer and that future travel for Premier League teams for Champions League games can take place.
Johnson has told ministers to “make Formula 1 happen” and asked Oliver Dowden, the culture secretary, to work with Matt Hancock, the health secretary, and Priti Patel, the home secretary, to make certain that the Formula One races take place.
The 14-day quarantine policy for nearly all travellers coming to Britain starts on June 8. Elite sportsmen and women are not on the exemption list but it is understood that the exemption list for quarantine restrictions is likely to be significantly expanded when it is reviewed after three weeks.
One advantage for major sporting events in gaining exemption is that access is already very tightly controlled and usually takes place in secure environments. As no fans will be attending the events, it means all the personnel involved will need to be accredited, which makes it much easier to control the number of people in the venue and where they can go.
The Formula One season is due to start in Austria on the first weekend of July before heading to the UK.
Silverstone’s managing director Stuart Pringle said this week he is hopeful the Formula One races can now go ahead without the large numbers of support staff involved being obliged to go into quarantine.
“It’s a very complex sport to get going because it’s a global championship with a huge logistical tail, so Formula One does need to know that it can set off on its global travel and be able to come in and out of its home base,” he said.
The first ten races of the F1 season have already been postponed or cancelled because of coronavirus.
The cricket tours are less under threat as the ECB has drawn up plans for a 14-day quarantine for the touring sides in a hotel and training ground “bubble” if that is needed.
The threat to English clubs travelling to Champions League and Europa League football matches in August remains an issue but if Silverstone is given an exemption then it is likely that would be extended to the clubs involved.
Uefa is planning to play all the remaining games in August but will be at the mercy of restrictions imposed by national governments. It does have a standby plan of organising a mini-tournament for the quarter-finalists in Turkey for the Champions League and Poland for the Europa League if quarantine rules prove too restrictive.