You’re probably sick and tired of hearing about the coronavirus and the impact it’s having on everyday life and whilst we recognise that motorsport is low down on the priority list, as you’re reading this, chances are you’re a motorsport fan, so the fact almost every piece of motorsport action has been cancelled or postponed it’s a pretty big deal when a big source of entertainment – for some of us a livelihood – has been hit so hard.
More than 75 races across many series worldwide have now been cancelled or postponed, mostly set to take place in March, April and May. No racing series has escaped the coronavirus; F1, F2, F3, FE, IndyCar, WEC, WRC, MotoGP, NASCAR, DTM, WRX…the list goes on and on.
Formula 1 is the world’s largest motorsport series and it’s been hit particularly hard. Attempts were made to kick-start the 2020 season in Australia this weekend despite various warnings that were repeatedly ignored. In the end, the right decision was made to call the race off, even if the process of doing so was a complete and utter shambles, but that’s a different story.
Australia’s cancellation has now led to further races being called off. Bahrain and Vietnam are the latest casualties. China was called off last month. Now we’ve been told the season won’t restart until “late-May”. That means the return of the Dutch Grand Prix won’t be happening as originally scheduled and the Spanish GP is set to be postponed. Monaco, scheduled for May 24, is also at threat.
That means the season could well start in Baku, which is scheduled for June 7 – when series bosses hope (and pray) the coronavirus will have done its worst and the world can begin returning to normal, though it’s clear that’ll take a long time given the severe impact the virus has had on businesses, people and economies.
If that’s the case and “late-May” proves to be the point at which the 2020 F1 season can finally kick-off, then there’s still plenty of time to get a decent number of races in to form a proper world championship (something the FIA defines as at least 8 races).
If the sport followed the current schedule, then we’d have a 15-round season which would be the same number as the 1983 season, but you only have to go back as far as 2003 when the calendar consisted of just 16 races and 17 in 2009. So just going ahead with the current schedule is one option.
However it’s clear that F1 and owner Liberty Media wouldn’t want to go down this route as each race that isn’t run will cost the business tens of millions. It’s more realistic that the calendar will be reshuffled to squeeze in as many races as is physically possible.
What might that look like and which races might not make the cut?
If “late-May” proves to be correct then Monaco could well be pushed back a week to May 31 – but remember this race pays no hosting fee and is therefore one Liberty might be willing to cut, however the fact it has been on the calendar since 1950 when the championship was formed, might be enough to save it, for historic purposes.
Liberty and race organisers will be keen to ensure as many races remain on their previously scheduled dates as tickets have been sold and moving them will have a major impact on fans, media and team personnel who will have already booked travel and tickets.
Australia is very unlikely to reappear in 2020, whilst it’s widely believed the Spanish GP – which holds a one year deal – will not be rescheduled. It’s safe to say Bahrain, Vietnam and the Netherlands most definitely will be as the first two pay a hosting fee far larger than most and losing Max Verstappen’s home race is a no-no!
F1 is keen to have a presence in China because it’s such a huge market and it’s rescheduling could come at the cost of losing Brazil, which pays very little to F1’s coffers and is one of the least favourite for teams and media to attend because of the high crime rates in Sao Paulo.
So four races need to be squeezed in somewhere, which is harder than you might think given geographical reasons – enough time to travel to and from each race and the weather at that time of year – contractual clauses – Abu Dhabi has to be the final race of the season – and so on…
Here’s what we think a revised 2020 calendar might look like, but of course without being involved in these private discussions, there’s no way of knowing exactly what F1 will – and can – do.