Eric Boullier, director of the French Grand Prix, says moving the race forward by one week has been a ‘big problem’, although he has since resold all the returned tickets.
As a result of the cancellation of the Turkish Grand Prix, Formula 1 bosses asked Boullier to move the Paul Ricard event to June 20, to allow for another race in Austria.
In the end, that caused some logistical problems for Boullier and his team, along with some spectators asking for refunds because they could no longer attend the rescheduled event.
“It was a big problem,” Boullier told Motorsport.com. “You don’t set a grand prix up in the last three days. It’s a few months’ work which we had to scrap and to adjust and to move.
“During the grand prix, I’ve got 1,200 people, they had booked their week to work for us, and when you move the date six weeks before, they have to change all their plans.
“Then the spectators, obviously. Everybody has booked his plane, train, accommodation or whatever, and they had to change everything again. So it’s been a challenge.
“We moved the date earlier by one week on F1’s request and we lost 20% of the spectators, but the tickets have been re-sold straight away.”
In 2019 the French Grand Prix was cancelled, but this year Paul Ricard has been given a special dispensation for spectators to be allowed at a higher number than at any other major French event during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In France normally you cannot have more than 5,000 spectators per event. Because of the specific design or layout of the Paul Ricard track, which is obviously very big, we can have three bubbles that are completely independent.
“We’ve been allowed to have 15,000 spectators, so three times 5,000. And every bubble is completely independent. They have their own access, their own parking. Nobody can cross the path of anyone.
“It’s been a strange time for everybody. We are happy we can have a race, happy we have some spectators.
“We’re going to be the first big event in France. There’s Roland Garros and the Cannes Festival, but with 15,000 spectators, this is the biggest so far. So it’s good to be back.”
Asked how many international fans would be attending Boullier added: “The profile of spectators of the French GP is usually 15% of foreigners and 85% French, and it’s quite similar this year.”
The most challenging part of the process, according to Boulier, has been getting F1 personnel from the UK into France.
“To be honest, the challenge has been mainly to deal with the authorities, between the health minister or home office minister, to actually to get the laissez-passer for the UK people to come in, because they have been in Baku, which is outside Europe, less than 14 days before entering the French territory.
“That has been the biggest challenge, to get the authorisation from the government to let them in.”
Should some flyaway events be cancelled and a spot on the calendar become available, Boulier said Paul Ricard might be willing to host another race later in the season.
The weather could allow the track to be used into the end of the year, but at this point F1 does not want to have to send the traveling freight back to Europe after the flyaway sequence begins in Russia in September.
“We are very happy to do whatever they want,” said Boullier. “They need to tell us on time, but of course, we would be interested. Why not?”