Start, Albert Park, Melbourne, 2019

Why the 2020 F1 calendar is taking so long to finalise

2020 F1 season

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Unless a draft 2020 F1 calendar is announced by midnight on Saturday, the release date will be the latest in recent history. In 2016 the first 2017 draft was announced in April, while previously a fixture list was generally released during the Hungarian Grand Prix weekend.

Those who have vacations and even weddings to plan around race weekends are eager to know why the delay and when next year’s race schedule will appear.

Once rumours of dates trickle out, hotels, airlines and car rental outlets inflate prices on the basis that these can be reduced should there be changes, but can’t hike them retrospectively. Thus, the sooner a draft calendar is released, the better for all concerned save the leeches, who have no skin in the game, but cream the benefits at the expense of fans.

That said, this year’s calendar is arguably the most complex and difficult the sport’s commercial rights holder, Liberty Media, has yet constructed, for not only are there two new events in 2021, but Spain miraculously found around €20m to stage a race despite pleading poverty just a few months ago.

Daniil Kvyat, Toro Rosso, Circuit de Catalunya, 2019
Catalunya appears to have won an unexpected reprieve
Where Liberty originally planned for 21 rounds, it now needs to slot in another date, or forfeit 20 ‘Bernies’, F1-speak for a million after the sport’s former tsar donated that amount to Britain’s Labour Party in the nineties.

Then there is the very real threat of Britain’s departure from the European Union, Brexit, disrupting the free movement of people and goods across the Channel. With each team having at least 15 trucks in circulation during the European season, and the largest deploying up to 30 transportation of their hospitality palaces, hundreds of trucks need to clear British customs in both directions for one weekend. That excludes support services and shipping of tyres, engines, fuels, oils, et cetera.

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According to a source in the loop, the British Grand Prix promoters requested some form of priority service, but were told ‘foodstuffs and medicines will receive priority, but not F1…’. Thus it is not feasible for the British Grand Prix to run back-to-back with another round due to the risk a few trucks could be delayed, potentially scuppering multiple events.

As a newbie, Vietnam poses another challenge: due to the complexities of clearing F1’s airfreight in and out of virgin territory for the championship. On average teams have 20 tons of kit, so over 200 tons when all is taken into account. Back-to-backs are best avoided, so although the country lends itself perfectly to twinning with, say, China, it may be unwise to do so in its inaugural year.

Zandvoort, 2018
Zandvoort will return after a 35-year absence
There are also contractual obligation to contend with. As race promoters sign up or extend existing contracts they increasingly stipulate certain date windows: For example, Monaco’s favoured weekend is the Ascension Day period, as that minimises business disruption, while Australia bags the opening round, and Abu Dhabi the closer. Zandvoort is said to have specified the opening European date.

Montreal insists on the June weekend which traditionally marks the start of summer locally. Sochi favours the last weekend in September as that coincides with a Russian festive weekend, and Red Bull Ring wants the first weekend in July.

To illustrate the complexities, take a 2021 year planner, then block off the weekends outlined above and factor in at least a fortnight ahead/after of the British round. Now try accommodating the remaining 15 races while respecting car build windows and testing regulations – all while taking regional weather patterns, local religious holidays, and (potentially) clashing major sporting events – motorised and other – into account.

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For example, the Clause 10.5 of the 2020 F1 Sporting Regulations states that testing of current cars (TCC) shall be limited to: “Two tests, open to all competitors, of no more than four consecutive days’ duration, carried out between 1 February and ten days before the start of the first event of the championship.”

Hockenheimring, 2019
Germany is expected to lose its race
Forget not that cars and kit then need to be returned to base ahead of airfreighting to Australia, then be customs cleared before delivery to the circuit in downtown Melbourne. That entire process takes a week, and possibly more for British teams after Brexit.

On top of this, the 2020 Tour de France start is scheduled for Nice during the last weekend in June, which has recently been the French Grand Prix date. Both the cycle and F1 races at Le Castellet are supported by the city and region, and hence a desire to move the latter date to minimise traffic congestions and maximise tourism benefits. Why not swap the grand prix date with that of Austria, a week later? Because Red Bull sponsors a music festival that weekend and needs to maximise its promotional activities.

Against that background, solving a Rubik’s Cube whilst blindfolded would be simpler and less time consuming than cramming 22 F1 races into 2020 and keeping everyone happy.

Nonetheless, we’ve given it a try. After speaking to a number of race promoters, who are in turn in contact with others, then taking known factors into account, we have been able to construct a draft calendar using known dates as base:

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Pre-season testing
Test oneCircuit de Catalunya, Spain19-21 February
Test twoCircuit de Catalunya, Spain26-28 February
Races
1Melbourne, Australia15 March
2Bahrain International Circuit, Bahrain22 March*
3Hanoi, Vietnam5 April**
4Shanghai International Circuit, China19 April**
5Zandvoort, Netherlands3 May
6Circuit de Catalunya, Spain10 May
7Monaco, Monte Carlo24 May
8Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, Canada7 June
9Baku, Azerbaijan14 June
10Paul Ricard, France28 June
11Red Bull Ring, Austria5 July
12Silverstone, Britain19 July
13Budapest, Hungary2 August
14Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium30 August
15Monza, Italy6 September
16Singapore20 September
17Sochi Autodrom, Russia27 September
18Suzuka, Japan11 October
19Circuit of the Americas, USA25 Oct*
20Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, Mexico1 Nov*
21Interlagos, Brazil15 November
22Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, UAE29 November

Note: This is a hypothetical calendar based on the best information available at the time of writing
* Most likely date
** Tentative date

2020 F1 season

Browse all 2020 F1 season articles

Author information

Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...

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41 comments on “Why the 2020 F1 calendar is taking so long to finalise”

  1. The Dutch GP is actually far from certain.

    Relatively new nitrogen (and other environmental) laws in the Netherlands are getting major construction projects canceled left, right and center currently, due to successful attempts to challenge government authorized permits in court by green-groups.

    Local green-groups have already announced to do exactly this and fight the Dutch GP relentlessly in court in order to get it banned altogether or at least delayed to the point they are too late to get the track ready before May 2020. Given the permits for both the construction works and the event itself have not yet been authorized and the lengthy formal legal appeal process that will follow it, I think a delay or cancellation is still a very real scenario.

    1. “Local green-groups have already announced to do exactly this and fight the Dutch GP relentlessly in court”

      This is incorrect; local green groups have announced they will go to court in order to get a reduction of overall track days to compensate for the F1 race and have stated they have no intention of preventing the race from happening.

      “Relatively new nitrogen (and other environmental) laws in the Netherlands are getting major construction projects canceled left, right and center currently, due to successful attempts to challenge government authorized permits in court by green-groups.”

      This only effects the construction of a new road, which isn’t planned for next years race.

      Still the greatest obstacle for the F1 race in Zandvoort is the FIA-license.

    2. They don’t need permits to alter the track so expect the work is going to be carried out. I think they are focusing on the new tribunes to be placed.
      But as the goverment is VVD i think they place it as national important and there other standards for that.

      1. @macleod The law is the law. Whoever is in power at any given time doesn’t make much of a difference. The Netherlands isn’t some corrupt failed state.

        Also, apart from a promise from the municipality of Zandvoort to invest 5 million euros in the town’s infrastructure, there is no financial help from any government level for the Dutch GP. To organize any big event always requires lots and lots of permits which can all be individually appealed during and after the authorization process.

        1. @jeffreyj
          “The law is the law.” Let me guess; you’re not from there?

          Yes, the Netherlands is not some corrupt failed state (although some might call it failed), as in: You can’t buy special privileges (in general).

          But, and this is extremely typical for the Netherlands, special privileges and exceptions are awarded for free non stop in case:
          Money can be made.
          It serves the common good. (Or can be framed like that.)
          It’s to much of a hassle to keep up the law.

          So from a legal point of view, the chance that the GP will be cancelled because organizations will go to court to prevent the GP is basically nil.

          The nitrogen case you mention is a great example of this; there is already a different ruling that allows the implementation of the so-called ABC-procedure, meaning that a project can go through if it proves that there are:
          A-No Alternatives.
          B-It has to be for the common good. (algemeen Belang)
          C-Compensation. (Let’s say, planting 5000 trees for a GP to compensate for the nitrogen.)

          To put it polite; The dutch are a bunch of cheeky ba$tard$ when it comes to the rule of law.

          1. @niki101 I know how big the goodwill is for the GP and I know how it works around here, I’m Dutch too haha. I agree that chances are good it will go to plan, I’m just saying that there is a legitimate chance the green-groups will be successful in their attempt to delay or even cancel the GP.

            @macleod I’m not just talking about the reconstruction at the track itself. To organize the event they need all kinds of permits. Mostly to do with crowd-routing, safety, etc. but also with concern to environmental laws, use of public spaces (incl. the surrounding protected nature reserve indeed). Literally, you can’t cut a single weed, sell a hamburger or organize a bicycle parking lot without a permit.

            As for the track reconstruction, I read they are going to start in November: https://www.gptoday.net/nl/nieuws/f1/248475/verbouwing-circuit-zandvoort-gaat-in-november-beginnen

        2. They are not breaking the law just bend it (a Lot) and luckly for modification you don’t need permits. So they are talking about the outer dunes which is a nature resort for which must be a permit but i think they will handle that.
          End of the month the work is going start.

  2. Those who have … even weddings to plan around race weekends

    OK, I’d like to know who this was 🙂. Was it you, Keith, or someone on the site, or someone elsewhere?

    1. Pretty sure it’s not referring to anyone specifically. Considering the size of the F1 circus, I’d bet there’s bound to be at least one wedding a month, on average, between all those people.

      It should be read as a blanket statement.

    2. That’s exactly what I am planning for 2021 when we honeymoon in Australia :) And yes, the wife-to-be does know…she even suggested it!

      1. Many congratulations in advance to both of you!

        @muzza – congratulations to your stepson and his partner!

    3. Stepson is getting married the Friday that Silverstone normally occupies – so the likely shift of date is most welcome in this household!

  3. Pretty sure it’s not referring to anyone specifically. Considering the size of the F1 circus, I’d bet there’s bound to be at least one wedding a month, on average, between all those people.

    It should be read as a blanket statement.

    1. Please delete. I clicked reply above, but it ended up orphaned below for some reason.

  4. How on earth are they going to do a back-to-back from Canada to Azerbaijan 🤪

    1. @Paul Griffith Well, they managed that in 2016 although still, I wish they wouldn’t do that again.

  5. Diego Oliveira
    27th August 2019, 14:27

    Having a race in NA (Canada) in June and then returning to America again in October makes no sense!

    1. @Diego Oliveira Honestly, when will people realize that there’s a perfectly valid reason for this, and it’s something called climate. Montreal is too cold for F1 in October and November, while COTA can be unpleasantly hot, and Mexico City unpleasantly rainy during the months when it’s suitable to race in Montreal. People should’ve figured this out a long time ago already. If the climate of Montreal would allow as much flexibility as, for example, Mexico City’s then it’d, of course, take place at the end of the season along with the other two NA-venues, but it isn’t, so no option.
      #CheckTheFactsBeforeClaimingSomething

  6. ”the last weekend in June, which has recently been the French Grand Prix date.”
    – Incorrect. The Austrian GP is the one that most recently has taken place at the very end of June.

    ”As a newbie, Vietnam poses another challenge: due to the complexities of clearing F1’s airfreight in and out of virgin territory for the championship. On average teams have 20 tons of kit, so over 200 tons when all is taken into account. Back-to-backs are best avoided, so although the country lends itself perfectly to twinning with, say, China, it may be unwise to do so in its inaugural year.”
    – I have never really thought of something like this. Still, though, distance-wise, it’d be better to pair China and Vietnam, than Australia and Bahrain. Nevertheless, here are my draft-calendars I’ve formed up:

    1. Australia March 15
    2. Bahrain March 29
    3. Vietnam April 12
    4. China April 19
    5. Spain(?) May 3 (the question mark refers to the lack of official confirmation)
    6. Netherlands May 10
    7. Monaco May 24
    8. Canada June 7
    9. France June 21
    10. Austria June 28
    11. Britain July 12
    12. Azerbaijan July 26
    13. Hungary August 2
    14. Belgium August 30
    15. Italy(?) September 6 (the same as with Spain)
    16. Japan September 20 (or Russia)
    17. Singapore September 27 (or Japan October 4)
    18. Russia October 11 (or Singapore)
    19. USA October 25
    20. Mexico November 1
    21. Brazil November 15
    22. Abu Dhabi (UAE) November 29

    1. Australia March 15
    2. Bahrain March 29
    3. Vietnam April 12
    4. China April 19
    5. Spain(?) May 3
    6. Netherlands May 10
    7. Monaco May 24
    8. Canada June 7
    9. France June 21
    10. Austria June 28
    11. Britain July 12
    12. Hungary July 26
    13. Belgium August 23
    14. Italy(?) August 30
    15. Azerbaijan September 13
    16. Russia September 20
    17. Japan October 4
    18. Singapore October 11
    19. USA October 25
    20. Mexico November 1
    21. Brazil November 15
    22. Abu Dhabi (UAE) November 29

    1. Or even better: Swap France and NL in both versions for climatic reasons.
      Spain May 3/France May 10 or vice versa, and NL June 21/Austria June 28 or vice versa.

    2. @jerejj I don’t understand why you’ve given Singapore the October 11th date, after both Japan and Russia. In all twelve years of the Singapore GP, it has always been late September, always the first round after the end of the European leg. I see no reason to change that for 2020.

      1. @mashiat Just because it has so far always ‘happened’ to have been the first round following the European-leg doesn’t mean it’d have to be like that forever. The reason for putting it on later in my 2nd draft is the climate. Suzuka and Singapore are warmer further into the autumn than Baku, so that’s why I’ve given them later slots than Baku and Sochi. Yes, it could be the other way round as well, which would then be:
        Japan-Singapore Sep 13/20, and Azerbaijan-Russia October 4/11, but mid-September would be better for Baku temperature-wise than early-October since it’s the coldest out of these four venues, so the earlier in the autumn, the better. The same motive is behind the Vietnam-China and Spain-Netherlands doubles as well. Jet lag is the reason for the order of the Japan-Singapore pairing.

        1. Just a pick-up I didn’t do earlier: There is no such thing as a ‘Russian festive weekend’ in September, though, nor any other national holiday period falling around the end-of-September/Beginning-of-October.
          https://www.timeanddate.com/holidays/russia/

  7. I’m curious : Has there ever been a biggest distance between the two legs of a back-to-back than Montreal – Baku?
    By my reckoning, it’s about 9000 km.

    1. @mxmxd That one doesn’t make much sense at all, does it? Why not pair Canada up with Mexico? That’s also better for Texas ticket sales, no?

      1. @jeffreyj When will people realize that there’s a perfectly valid reason for the Canadian GP taking place at a different time of year to the other two North American races, and it’s something called climate. Montreal is too cold for F1 in October and November, while COTA can be unpleasantly hot, and Mexico City unpleasantly rainy during the months when it’s suitable to race in Montreal. People should’ve figured this out a long time ago already. If the climate of Montreal would allow as much flexibility as, for example, Mexico City’s then it’d, of course, take place at the end of the season along with the other two NA-venues, but it isn’t, so no option.
        #CheckTheFactsBeforeClaimingSomething

        1. @jerejj Dude, I’m perfectly aware of that and Mexico in June is absolutely fine. Plus, if it does rain that would make the race a lot more fun as it is a procession usually.

          Anyway, my reason to group them together is that the Austin race attendance was reported to be hurt by the Mexican GP and grouping two races in the Americas together makes more sense than flying the entire circus from Montreal to Azerbaijan in 3 days.

          1. @jeffreyj Yes, temperature-wise Mexico City in June is absolutely fine, but it’s one of the rainiest months of the year there. Something that the event promoter pointed out would make it a nightmare if the race took place in June. Furthermore, yes logistics-wise, it’d, of course, be better to group all three, no doubt about that, but again, the differences in climates are just too significant for that to work practically. Austin and Mexico City can only really hold slots at the tail-end and or beginning of the season, while Montreal only really in July and August besides June, so not much room for flexibility.

          2. @jerejj and @jeffreyj : September in Montreal would be perfectly adequate, too. Worst case, you end up with a 15C day in late september.

            But yeah, May is too risky (freezing temperatures aren’t uncommon), and anything after September makes no sense.

    2. @mxmxd Yes, there has. Sao Paulo-Abu Dhabi (The Brazilian and Abu Dhabi GPs took place on subsequent weekends in 2010) distance is 12,118.30 km by air, so at least that. Should the Australian and Bahrain GPs take place on consecutive weekends next season, then it would get very close since their equivalent distance is 12,111.53 km. The Montreal-Baku distance is 8,937.32 km to be precise. Here are other examples of pairings with significant distance between them:
      Austin-Sao Paulo (2012-2014): 8,097.19 km
      Suzuka-Sochi (2014, and last season) 7,911.52 km
      Singapore-Sochi (last and this season) 7,847.34 km

      1. @mxmxd The source for the distance-figures is distance.to.

        1. Well, my 9000 km figure was a pure approximation!
          Good catch for Interlagos /Abu Dhabi

          1. @mxmxd Hence, the word ‘really’ at the end there. With regards to September, yes, pretty decent alternative, but only really till the middle. Beyond the middle of the month, the risk of temperatures that are regarded as unideal for F1 gets higher and higher, so the earlier the better. The same with May, but the other way round, in short; mid-May at the very earliest, and mid-September at the very latest.

  8. Then there is the very real threat of Britain’s departure from the European Union, Brexit, disrupting the free movement of people and goods across the Channel.

    Not being familiar with the situation, and maybe I’m reading too much into this, but from what little I’ve seen and heard there’s potentially a bigger problem for the UK than just leaving the EU and the consequential customs clearance issues. There’s the question of the 39 billion pounds “divorce payment” that needs to be resolved. Theresa May had agreed the UK would pay that amount to the EU if the UK seceded. According to a Reuter’s report there seems to be a claim emanating from the French President’s office that “failing to pay the Brexit bill would amount to a sovereign debt default”. I suspect that’s an extreme view, but it leaves open the question of what will happen to the British Pound after 31st October. That could be more important to F1 teams than the frustrations at the British and French ports.

  9. Nice calendar but aren’t you forgetting the vacation for the teams?

    1. @macleod – Isn’t that the gap between the Hungarian and Belgian GPs, i.e. between 2nd and 30th August?

      1. Your right i was looking at @jerejj calendar!

  10. Kyle (@hammerheadgb)
    29th August 2019, 9:13

    Congratulations @dieterrencken your draft calendar was spot-on – or perhaps Liberty read this and decided to use yours? ;)

  11. Here’s my 2020 calendar
    Australia 15th March
    Vietnam 29th March (or 22nd)
    Bahrain 5th April
    China 19th April (or 12th April)
    Azerbaijan 26th April
    Spain 10th May
    Monaco 24th May
    Canada 7th June
    France 21st June
    Austria 28th June
    Britain 12th July
    Netherlands 19th July
    Hungary 2nd August
    Belgium 30th August
    Italy 6th September
    Singapore 20th September
    Russia 27th September
    Japan 11th October
    Mexico 25th October
    USA 1st November
    Brazil 15th November
    Abu Dhabi 29th November

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