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Sport

Fans return in Russia but F1 still a long way from normal

(Reuters) - 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”.

Formula One F1 - Russian Grand Prix - Sochi Autodrom, Sochi, Russia - September 26, 2020 Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton after qualifying in pole position alongside second placed Red Bull's Max Verstappen and third placed Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas FIA/Handout via REUTERS

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.

Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London; Editing by Ken Ferris

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