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.”
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.
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.
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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