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Formula 1

F1-hopeful Portimao has held closed-doors trial

by Valentin Khorounzhiy
4 min read

The Algarve International Circuit in Portugal expects to be in a position to host top international motorsport events after it completed procedures of running races behind closed doors during a private event last month.

The track was built in 2008 and held an F1 winter test one year later. It has since gone on to host a range of GT, motorbike and touring car races and events, and has recently undergone development work.

Its managing director Paulo Pinheiro has told The Race that the facility is set to re-open in May and could host major international events behind closed doors “immediately”.

The track, which is close to the town of Portimao in the Algarve region, has four Grade 1 FIA-approved layouts with eight combinations of circuit possible.

“We’ve had some conversations with FOM, since the time of Mr. [Bernie] Ecclestone, up to the times now of Liberty,” said Pinheiro.

“We want to have a Formula 1 race and I think in this pandemic time, we have probably the best situation in Europe to have a race because we have a lot of hotels available too.

“We have an amazing race track available with multiple combinations. Our facilities are so big that you don’t have the problem of having everyone together for the organisation side.”

The facility is large in scale with 60,000 square metres of construction area inside. Its size would enable and ease social distancing measures and also allow individual constructions of team offices, TV compounds and catering to have adequate space to function.

Pinheiro, who is part of the executive board of the Algarve Civil Protection organisation that heads up all health and security issues in the Algarve, says that the track practiced closed-doors procedures before the shutdown measures came into force.

“Just before the emergency state was declared, on the race track we were having an event with an international manufacturer and we created a very thorough and detailed plan in how we would operate to separate completely the clients from our organisation and inside our organisation,” he said.

“This was the people on the race track, the marshals and the rescues and all that and the people that are in race control and in the medical centre.

“We invested a lot of time and it is something that we already operated a couple of weeks [ago] under these new rules and had a very clear segregation between the different sides of our company and our client.

“This is one of the reasons why in the last two weeks, that we have got six new international races booked here.”

The Algarve region has not been significantly hit by the global COVID-19 pandemic, with “three people currently in intensive care in the Algarve” and “approximately 200 people that are ill”, according to Pinheiro.

“Because now the concern is not the health issue, is the economic issue, so we are ready to have a race first week of June if needed,” he added.

Pinheiro also confirmed that he had already conducted some talks with Formula E about hosting rounds for the all-electric series in order for it to complete its 2019-20 season.

“We had some discussions and I am very keen in having Formula E because it’s such a different race,” he said.

The track has 5.5 megawatts of electrical power available at the racetrack produced by solar energy and hosted the Jaguar I-PACE global retailer conference in 2018.

Now, the track is set to open again next month and has events and clients booked throughout the summer.

“I think this [enforced closure] will end on the May 1,” Pinheiro confirmed.

“I am considering a gap of one or two weeks just to make sure that all the legislation regarding this is implemented and also we are planning to open on the second week of May, that’s our plan at the moment.”

The Portimao facility was initially granted an FIA Grade 2 plus 1T licence when it opened in 2008, meaning that the circuit could hold F1 testing.

Eduardo Freitas, from Portuguese motorsport association FPAK, drove forward requirements for the circuit to liaise with the FIA for confirmation of the grading and the necessary work needed to achieve it.

After this the necessary work took place and the track was inspected in early January 2019 by Charlie Whiting, its official granting of the Grade 1 status was ultimately delayed due to a combination of Whiting’s untimely death and the track’s intense concentration of events.

The final report with the conclusion of the works was done in the week of the ELMS visit in October last year, and the grade was subsequently awarded.

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