Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Sochi, 2018

Why Russia won’t be swapping race dates with China due to the coronavirus

2020 F1 season

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On Sunday Formula E announced that due to the outbreak of novel coronavirus on the Chinese mainland, the series would “not race in Sanya on the scheduled date of March 21, 2020.”

It added that “all parties will take the appropriate amount of time to study the viability of potential alternative dates should the situation improve.” That final sentence points to the expected difficulties in reinstating the race during the current season, despite the series football-style seasons, which involve little racing from September to November.

With the Chinese Grand Prix scheduled for April 17th-19th, exactly a month after the cancelled FE round, what are the chances that event will also be cancelled?

Health organisations are predicting that no proven vaccines will be available for the virus, officially known as #2019-CoNV, before mid-year at the earliest. Were the coronavirus to continue spreading as expected it would be irresponsible for Formula 1 to send thousands of employees – its own and those of teams and others – to the country in the name of sport. And, as many international airlines have cancelled flights, could F1 even travel to China without swimming?

Since taking over the sport a little over three years ago, Liberty has proven to be a most responsible manager of the sport, and can be trusted to take appropriate decisions in conjunction with the FIA. Apart from other considerations, a single race in a contaminated country could see further races cancelled should F1 folk find themselves infected, with commensurate knock-on effects.

Start, Formula E, Sanya, 2019
Formula E called off its return to China next month
With CoNV gradually spreading through Asia could the inaugural Vietnam Grand Prix – scheduled for two weeks before Shanghai in order to streamline logistics – also be on the endangered list? If both these races were cut, F1 would have a six-week gap between the second round in Bahrain and the Dutch Grand Prix at the beginning of May.

Diseases and disasters are no respecters of human activities, be these commercial, personal or sporting. Or, for that matter, borders. The hard reality is Formula 1 is at the mercy of the same global realities as anything else.

Other motorsport events have over the years fallen prey to real world developments. Last year’s Australia World Rally Championship round was called off at the last minute due to bush fires, while the 1967 British Rally was cancelled due to an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. Over the years events in all categories have fallen foul of politics – sporting and global – with French worker strikes getting the better of the 1936 Le Mans 24 Hour, and two 1956 grands prix dropping out to due to the Suez Crisis.

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It’s hard to place a number on the exact number of F1 races which have been cancelled, for at was point is a race officially considered to be ‘scheduled’? This may be easy to say today, but go back a few decades and the world championship calendar was arranged rather more informally. But of the approximately 50 grands prix which have been cancelled since 1950, the vast majority were due to fiscal reasons, others due to inept organisation, and a few dropped due to safety concerns.

[smr2020test]Global health emergencies such as coronavirus haven’t figured highly among the list of reasons. The 2002-03 SARS outbreak in China pre-dated F1’s 2004 arrival in the country.

Leaving aside the New Jersey Grand Prix, which never got off the ground, the last F1 race to be cancelled was the 2011 Bahrain Grand Prix, when the country was one of several gripped by the ‘Arab Spring’ uprisings, which in Manama were suppressed with deadly force. Attempts were made to stage the event after a period of martial law, but it proved impossible to find a slot that ticked all boxes despite F1 tsar Bernie Ecclestone’s best attempts at strong-arming the Indian Grand Prix – then a new addition – into accepting an alternate date.

Should the coronavirus scupper China’s round, could it be rescheduled? The 22-race 2020 F1 calendar offers little to no realistic wriggle room.

Various permutations have been suggested including, some speculative reports have proposed, switching China’s April date with Russia’s September race. But where would that leave Vietnam, and where would such chopping and changing stop? When Formula E, with just 11 race weekends, finds it difficult to find “potential alternative dates”, imagine then the task for F1 with double that number.

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Equally, would it be fair to punish fans who have booked and paid for, say, a trip to Sochi Autodrom in October, then expect them to switch at great expense? Fans seldom have access to private jets and company expense accounts, and already pay heavily for their passion.

Daniel Ricciardo, Renault, Shanghai International Circuit, 2019
Shanghai’s F1 round may not go ahead
Approached by RaceFans about a potential switch, a spokesperson for race organiser Rosgonki emphatically ruled out a change of date: “The calendar was confirmed by the FIA and F1 in October, and there will be no change of date for the Russian Grand Prix.”

Asked whether one of the difficulties was that tickets had already been sold and hotels booked, they added: “I do not even want to answer that question as the question of a change of date does not arise. Full stop!”

While China’s round remains more than two months away, should a race (or two) be cancelled this year, the chances of it being reinstated at a later date are exceedingly slim.

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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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25 comments on “Why Russia won’t be swapping race dates with China due to the coronavirus”

  1. Why did someone even suggest Sochi Autodrom as a venue to swap with SIC in the first place? Why not, for example, Suzuka instead? Similar climate (although that of the Sochi area is also essentially the same), a similar distance, etc. Nevertheless, impracticable with this little notice, so again, it’s either that Chinese GP goes ahead as scheduled or doesn’t go ahead at all for the upcoming season. No other option available with this little notice for a few reasons.

    1. Because in Soviet Russia, you kill virus.

      (That’s a play on a meme, people, don’t get offended and jab me with an umbrella).

      1. Perhaps a glowing cuppa tea instead for you, @phylyp

    2. Why did anyone suggest anyone should swap? Simply unfair at short notice. Tough luck and hard cheese.

      If the calendar wasn’t so full they could look at rescheduling, but as it is, they’ve made their own bed, so should just deal with it.

    3. Asking Japanese to organise something with two months notice is MURI – beyond reason!
      Probably they would consider April 2021!

      1. @aemanuele MURI indeed. I’ve heard that word a lot in Anime although also other words with similar meaning.

    4. Why did someone even suggest Sochi Autodrom as a venue to swap with SIC in the first place?

      @jerejj Yeah, sorry, but I should accept partial blame for that thought, because I did suggest such a thing. Note that I’m assuming that “SIC” is some sort of acronym that is related to the Chinese GP.

      1. @drycrust Yes, it’s an acronym for Shanghai International Circuit the same as BIC for Bahrain International Circuit, YMC for Yas Marina Circuit, and COTA for Circuit Of The Americas, etc.

        1. so YMCA is Yas Marina Circuit administrator

  2. I doubt any Grand Prix would get rescheduled due to the crowding already in place, and how far in advance teams have to book to get a decent-priced flight with space for 60 staff. If China doesn’t take its expected date, it’ll get skipped presumably without being charged any part not yet provided to Liberty. I recall races used to pay half in advance and half afterwards, and if so it seems unlikely Liberty would get the second half of the payment…

    Suspect that if cancellation occurs, a way will be found to get Vietnam its debut (assuming everything Vietnam-side is ready and able to accept the F1 paddock’s arrival).

  3. Diseases and disasters are no respecters of human activities, be these commercial, personal or sporting. Or, for that matter, borders.

    Very eloquently put.

    When Formula E, with just 11 race weekends, finds it difficult to find “potential alternative dates”, imagine then the task for F1 with double that number.

    Not to mention the much larger logistics tail.

  4. While a virus is potentially more catastrophic, for the purposes of the cancellation simply replace the reason as earthquake or other infrastructure destroying event. People may understand that better?

  5. I hate to mention it, but if it’s going to be tagged as it is in this article, the correct name for the novel Coronavirus is #2019-nCoV.

    I’m not a fan of picking up on errors, particularly on my favourite sites. It just seems with this topic playing out as it is at the moment, it was worth noting.

  6. Fifty cancelled races sounds like a lot…they couldn’t all have been World Championship..?

    1. You tell me, mate, it’s your username that’s @gpfacts ;)

      1. It is, isn’t it?! But this one catches me out…not something I would have ever monitored. But 50 definitely sounds like a LOT.

  7. I guess we have to face it: There ain’t gonna be a China round in the 2020 championship….

  8. If they can’t race in China (around 1000 miles from the outbreak) there will be many more races falling off the calendar by the time their round comes

    1. But as Dieter pointed out:

      Apart from other considerations, a single race in a contaminated country could see further races cancelled should F1 folk find themselves infected, with commensurate knock-on effects.

      So, if they do race in China, they could very well achieve the same effect as you say.

      Besides, if – as you state – there are more countries being impacted by the time F1 comes to race in those countries, then I’d say that the 2020 season will be the least of our worries in the grander scheme of things.

  9. I have tickets for my son and I for Vietnam and flights all booked so I really hope they get this virus under control and nothing gets cancelled.. time will tell.. 🙏🙏🙏🙏🙏

    1. @bwells88 Have a good time in the ‘inaugural’ Vietnamese GP. Presuming the virus gets under contract by then, of course.

  10. It’ll all be cool by the time Singapore and Suzuka roll around. They’re my visits for this year.

    That said, it’s a pity if China were to be cancelled because it’s one of the few races you can view in Australia in the daytime.

  11. Why not have the race at Sepang in April?

    1. @anon Wasn’t doable at that short notice.

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