Imola F1 race to run without fans after government order

The Italian authorities have made a late decision to ensure that this weekend’s Formula 1 Emilia Romagna GP is run behind closed doors.

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The circuit had been given permission last month to sell 13,000 tickets and operate VIP hospitality both for local sponsors and guests of the regional authority that is backing the race.

However this week a decree from the office of prime minister Giuseppe Conte, known as a DCPM, ordered a raft of new COVID-19 measures.

It includes a clampdown on crowds at events, as well more general restrictions such as closure of restaurants and cafes across the country after 6pm.

In the past two days the governor of the Emilia Romagna region, Stefano Bonaccini, talked directly to both the prime minister and the minister of health in search of an exemption for the race, but none was forthcoming.

Imola had detailed plans to ensure effective social distancing by spreading fans around the grandstands, and having been given the go-ahead to take spectators had spent money on the necessary preparations.

While it had not sold all of the 13,000 tickets on offer, the track was expecting a late rush because people were holding back in case of a cancellation or the sort of crowd restriction that has now been imposed.

“The government has banned our fans and we are very disappointed for that,” Imola boss Uberto Selvatico Estense told Motorsport.com. “We’re very sorry also for the inconvenience we are facing for this decision.

“The governor of Emilia Romagna was talking to the minister of health today, but they denied any waiver to the decree.

“It’s not easy to explain to the fans that the government has changed their opinion in a very short time, because just one week ago they confirmed that we were allowed to have fans.

"So we went further with all the organisation, all the stuff that we were preparing. We spent a lot of money just to be ready for this opportunity.

“It’s late, just four days left to the event, so it's a very short time to tell people that we cancelled the attendance.

“Now we have to explain to the spectators that it’s not in doubt that we will reimburse the tickets.

"We will face some trouble for sure with people who will try to enter. They bought a ticket and don't understand why they are excluded now."

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An F1 spokesman told Motorsport.com. “We had hoped to welcome fans to the race this weekend but completely understand and respect the decision taken by the authorities. We hope our fans still enjoy the race from home.”

The Imola crowd ban comes soon after a similar decision in Turkey, while in Germany spectators from certain areas were only allowed in if they could produce a negative COVID-19 test certificate.

There was also a late restriction on numbers in Portugal, and before the race the police stopped letting ticketed fans in, claiming that the venue had reached the allowed capacity.

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