Russian Grand Prix: Fans return but F1 still a long way from normal
Formula One welcomed spectators in greater numbers in a COVID-19 hit season at the Russian Grand Prix as organisers expect a sellout crowd for Sunday
A general view during qualifying as fans return to the stands ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on Saturday
Formula One welcomed spectators in greater numbers than seen so far in a COVID-19 hit season at the Russian Grand Prix on Saturday, with McLaren's Lando Norris describing their presence as "half a step back to the way it should be". Organisers, who have talked of attracting a 30,000 strong crowd for Sunday's race in Sochi, have declared the tickets sold out.
They said some 5,000 had attended on Thursday, when there was no track action at the Olympic Park circuit and the usual pit lane walk was conducted virtually with fans watching on big screens.
"I've missed the fans so much through the year. I can't tell you how great it is to see people," six-times world champion Lewis Hamilton told reporters after securing pole position for Mercedes.
"I hope everyone has their mask on and staying safe," added the Briton.
Norris said it was still a long way from the old normal.
"We don't have any of the meet and greets, we're not up close with the fans like we were last year and signing autographs and pictures on the way in through the gates," he said.
"It's still quite different. But I guess just looking out of your pit box and seeing the fans on the grandstand and hearing the cheering and the claps when Lewis was just on pole, it just feels more normal and more like back to how it should be.
"It's like half a step back to the way it should be."
The first race to allow fans to attend in limited numbers was the Tuscan Grand Prix at Mugello in Italy two weeks ago.
The Ferrari-owned track allowed 2,880 paying fans to attend each day.
The season's first eight races were held behind closed doors.