Portimão’s ‘F1 Heineken Grand Prix Portugal’ promised “at least €30 million” for the local economy and 5000 spectators when it was confirmed in a rush of enthusiasm in July (click here). Three months on and Covid-19 has turned almost every happy expectation to dust.
On Friday health officials admitted the whole issue of public ‘participation’ in the event had to be ‘revised’ – and on Sunday came the news that ‘only’ 27,500 people will be allowed through the gates.
Bearing in mind the Algarve International Autodrome has capacity for 100,000, the reduction in numbers will ensure physical distancing on a massive level. It will also see off any ideas of bumper profits (after years of relative famine).
To be fair, the course of the pandemic since July had already affected hoopes of healthy business.
Says TSF radio, “demand (for tickets) was not large” and the region now cannot expect a good flow of money when races start this weekend”.
Talking to hoteliers association chief Elidério Viegas, TSF learnt that some tickets have already been returned (for promised refunds) while hotels are receiving cancellations.
Fortunately, bookings made by people within the F1 teams remain (mechanics, drivers, etc.). “We knew we wouldn’t have the kind of interest that would be normal for this period of the year”. Viegas concedes.
But the cancellations coming in are still deeply depressing – almost all of them from foreigners, particularly from the United Kingdom (which still demands that anyone flying ‘home’ from Portugal serves a 14-day period of quarantine).
An ‘up aspect’ is that any Portuguese or Portuguese residents who have purchased tickets are likely to remain unaffected. They will still be able to watch the first ever Algarve Grand Prix – though their presence is unlikely to bring much to the region in the way of ‘revenue’.
“The majority will come here for the day, watch the races and then return home”, said Viegas. “They won’t be staying in hotels or on tourist complexes…”
Yes, it’s a ‘privilege’ that the Algarve has been chosen as the venue for the first F1 fixture on national soil since 1996 – as it promotes not simply the region, but the country. But what it means in material terms, certainly in the short-term, will be very little.