Start, Yas Marina, 2019

How much of its 2020 season can F1 realistically salvage?

2020 F1 season

Posted on

| Written by and

Yesterday’s announcement on how the 2020 F1 calendar might look following the unprecedented disruption to the start of the year told us little beyond how the championship expects to begin and end its season.

But it did offer several indications of what the season might look like in a best-case scenario.

As things stand 12 races are yet to confirm changes to their plans, three have been cancelled (Australia, Monaco and France), and seven others have been notionally postponed. ‘Notionally’ because none of these have yet confirmed when they have been postponed to. We met yet discover some will not get new dates, and therefore are not postponed but cancelled.

However Formula 1 chairman and CEO Chase Carey did name-check one of those races which are currently hanging in limbo. The Bahrain Grand Prix, originally scheduled as round two in March, will go ahead on an unspecified date in December.

It’s not hard to see why Bahrain was the first ‘postponed’ round to get a tentative date. It is the closest circuit geographically to the race it will precede, the season-closing Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, which based on Carey’s words will have to be put back at least two weeks from its original November 29th date.

Furthermore Bahrain’s government-funded race is known to be one of F1’s top-paying events, so the incentive to reschedule it is high. It is also less vulnerable to the consequences of not being able to admit fans if that is still not possible by December, as it is one of the least well-attended races to begin with (though, to be fair, we spoke to two fans last month who were sincerely disappointed at missing their chance to attend the race).

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

The season will open with ‘ghost races’: Austria and Britain’s rounds will be closed to spectators. Silverstone plans to offer those who intended to attend this year’s race added incentives to transfer their tickets to 2021.

“Silverstone are working on an incentives package to reward those fans that chose to retain their tickets for 2021,” a spokesperson told RaceFans. “The finer details are being finalised but we plan to include team garage tours, signed merchandise and pit lane access to reward the loyalty of our fans.”

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Zandvoort, demonstration run, 2020
Zandvoort’s F1 return looks unlikely to happen this year
As reported earlier, Austria and Britain may also hold extra races, potentially mid-week shortly after their weekend races.

Could either use different track configurations to add variety to those races? Forget running them in reverse, however much some drivers may like the idea, it’s a non-starter without substantial investment.

Shorter track variations could provide a solution. Silverstone has two, the Red Bull Ring one, but each may be considered too short for the sport’s needs, particularly in the case of the Austrian track, which already sees F1’s lowest lap times.

So the season will start in Austria and Britain, and end in Bahrain and Abu Dhabi. What happens in between is much less clear. According to Carey “September, October and November would see us race in Eurasia, Asia and the Americas”. Or, in other words, at pretty much any of the remaining tracks.

Some venues already look unlikely to reappear on the schedule. Rescheduling a trip across the Atlantic for as the Canadian Grand Prix will be tricky: While it might make sense to slot the race in alongside the two other North American races at the end of October, the low temperatures in Montreal at that time of year may prevent that.

It doesn’t look good for F1’s two new races for 2020 either. Reinstating Vietnam, which was supposed to hold its first ever F1 race this year, would be a major coup, but the fact Hanoi was due to stage a street race makes it logistically difficult.

Zandvoort’s return to the F1 calendar will probably have to wait another year as the Dutch government has announced an extension to its ban on public events until the beginning of September. Likewise Spa halted ticket sales for the Belgian Grand Prix on August 30th after public events there were called off until the end of that month.

Other European race promoters will be nervously hoping the same fate doesn’t befall their events. Or, in the case of Britain and Italy, that the significance of the motor sport industries in their countries might help secure the future of those races.

Go ad-free for just £1 per month

>> Find out more and sign up

As a street race, Singapore is unlikely to countenance its grand prix being moved from its scheduled date. But any event based in a city may have concerns over importing large numbers of people, which applies to Mexico and Brazil’s rounds too. These races have time on their side, however, being over six months away.

Start, Spa-Francorchamps, 2019
Spa ticket sales have stopped
Changes at that end of the calendar could open an opportunity for other flyaway races to be rescheduled. Baku is a street race, so that will be a stretch, but it’s another big-ticket ‘propaganda race’ F1 will be at pains to lose.

A slot may also be found for the Chinese Grand Prix to be reinstated. F1 is already indicated this race weekend is likely to be cut from three days to two so it can run back-to-back with another round.

This principle could be applied elsewhere to meet Carey’s goal of holding 15 to 18 races this year. The lower number is thought to be close to the minimum F1 can hold without having to discount its highly lucrative deals with television broadcasters.

F1 will be desperate to sustain these deals, which explains why it is prepared to go to the lengths of reimbursing circuits for lost gate receipts in order to hold races behind closed doors. This likely also explains why Bahrain and Abu Dhabi have been pencilled in as the season-closers at this early stage. In the event of further mid-season cancellations, these might be pressed to hold extra races, as Austria and Britain appear set to.

But at this stage this all remains highly tentative. The French Grand Prix was cancelled only yesterday, and the likelihood is there are still more races which will have to give up on their hopes of holding any race this year, let alone one behind closed doors.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

“All of our plans are obviously subject to change as we still have many issues to address and all of us are subject to the unknowns of the virus,” Carey acknowledged yesterday. “We all want the world to return to the one we know and cherish, yet we recognise it must be done in the right and safest way.”

As things stand the first race of the season is over two months away, and F1 needs the global situation to get better quickly to have any hope of reaching its new start date.

F1’s remaining 12 races and available weekends

Races listed by their dates on the original 2020 calendar.

WeekendOriginal races
4-5 JulyAustria
11-12 July
18-19 JulyGreat Britain
25-26 July
1-2 AugustHungary
8-9 August
15-16 August
22-23 August
29-30 AugustBelgium
5-6 SeptemberItaly
12-13 September
19-20 SeptemberSingapore
26-27 SeptemberRussia
3-4 October
10-11 OctoberJapan
17-18 October
24-25 OctoberUSA
31 Oct – 1 NovMexico
7-8 November
14-15 NovemberBrazil
21-22 November
28-29 NovemberAbu Dhabi
5-6 December
12-13 December
19-20 December
26-27 December

2020 F1 season

Browse all 2020 F1 season articles

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

Got a potential story, tip or enquiry? Find out more about RaceFans and contact us here.

28 comments on “How much of its 2020 season can F1 realistically salvage?”

  1. At least what we could do is having races in the same continent one after the other. No sense in having Canada in June when Austin + Mexico is in Oct-Nov. Place them three with Brazil and then Singapore, Vietnam, China and Japan all toghether as well. Anyone else thinks that ending the year with a back-to-back of night races might be a mistake?

    1. @heming49 What part of climate-inflexibility don’t people understand? Montreal has to be part of the European-leg as those months are effectively the only suitable months for F1 temperature-wise while COTA can get unpleasantly hot in those months and Mexico City rainy. October and November are simply out of question for the Canadian GP. Montreal has always been in June except for its first four seasons solely for climatic-reasons and yet to this day people still bother to question that. There just isn’t really a time of year when both Montreal and COTA would simultaneously have ideal climatic-conditions for F1. Mexico City’s temps stay relatively stable all-year-round, but Montreal is only really suitable from (at the earliest) roughly mid-May until (at the latest) roughly mid-September, and COTA in October, November, March, April, and May.
      As for ending the season with back-to-back floodlit races: Nothing wrong with that. Why would there be?

    2. @heming49 There’s, of course, no denying that having all three (Montreal, COTA, Mexico City) grouped and perhaps even form a triple-header would be ideal from the logistical/travelling-POV, but just not practicable due to climatic-differences between Montreal and COTA alone.

    3. Given Bahrein and co will be in November/December, I don’t expect these races to be floodlit given the temperatures at night.

  2. My concern is, with too much squeezing and inventive additional midweek races, we end up with a season that just feels wrong. With the current pandemic so much focus has been put on people staying at home and emotionally investing in the wellbeing of others.

    How many fans will want to watch a grid of F1 teams putting themselves through the travel and F1 weekend routine (however shortened or adjusted it might be) just to “put on the show”. What will watching a race with no spectators at the circuit be like? I can think of only the desert and Singapore rounds where they’re not really seen on TV.

    Then there are the drivers. Do they really want to travel the world to race while their families and friends are stuck at home? What’s the message there and are they comfortable projecting it?

    This all feels like commercial and business sense over common sense, and it makes me uneasy. I love F1 and want to see racing, but not in a world that has collectively discovered there are much more important things to worry about. I’m sure there are lots of ways Liberty can ensure the health and safety of those in the travelling circus, but how many people in those teams really want to be dragged around the world away from their families at this time?

    1. I don’t see why “commercial and business sense”, i.e. trying to prevent many jobs being lost and businesses collapsing, would not be common sense.

      “dragged around the world away from their families” — that’s their job, one they chose. It won’t be much different because their families have to stay at home while they’re away.

      I don’t understand why so many people seem to WANT F1 jobs to be lost and F1 businesses to collapse? Sure this season won’t be ideal, but we should all pull together to salvage as much from it as we can. A few shots of empty stands and some tight scheduling is really not that bad compared to whole teams disappearing.

      1. @krommenaas people have been complaining about the impact that the expanding calendar has been having on those who work within the sport, and over the past few years there seems to have been anecdotal evidence of increasing signs of negative impacts on the physical and mental health of those involved.

        There have been rumours of increased levels of alcohol abuse by some staff, others whose personal relationships have become increasingly dysfunctional, or ended up breaking up with their families altogether and more frequent instances of depression amongst staff who feel even more isolated as they spend longer and longer on the road by themselves. It feels like you’re rather dismissive of the idea that the sport should be doing more to look after those involved – they’re already being criticised under normal circumstances as it is, let alone now.

        1. Staying at home for 8+ weeks will be a lot worse for your mental health than having 4 back-to-back races

  3. Still nothing decided for the Spa Grand Prix. The race “could” run behind closed doors, provided the government gives it a go and FOM and Spa reaches an agreement on the price. Belgian government is evaluating allowing people to get back to work, shops to reopen and children to schools, all for mid-may. Running Spa without spectators with high security standards at the end of august is not impossible but still early days and no indications.

  4. I copy-paste words from other articles and sites:
    The Canadian GP despite not being officially cancelled is definitely more or less guaranteed of not going ahead this year since sporting events/mass gatherings are banned in the province of Quebec until the end of August and mid-September is the approximate deadline for getting ideal temps there before it starts to get cooler and cooler (i.e., neither October nor November is an option for Montreal, so the Americas-leg within these months would feature the trio of US-Mexico-Brazil as per the last five seasons). The Dutch GP will also have the same difficulties in getting rescheduled for the same reason as does the Belgian GP if/when it loses its scheduled date given the same ban lasts until the end of August in Belgium as well and having the same climate inflexibility as Montreal and Zandvoort.

  5. One problem that could potentially scupper plans to hold races behind closed doors is the quarantine restrictions likely to be placed on any visitors to the host countries.

    Unless possibly the individuals within the teams can prove they are free of the disease they may face a week or two quarantine which will make international travel extremely difficult.

    1. Yes, this is a good point. I saw some statistics from South Korea today for the 26th April. Of the 14 new infections recorded for that day 12 were classified as imported. I suspect this will be the case for many countries when they have the virus more or less under control, in that they will trace new infections back to people from outside the country. I guess the onus is on F1 to set a good example.

  6. @cnitallb4 Indeed. If there are still mandatory quarantines in place, races would have to be further away from each other to give teams sufficient lead-time to get there in time.

  7. Gavin Campbell
    28th April 2020, 9:40

    Sorry to burst everyones bubble further but the “Short/Alternative Circuits” would also have to be graded as “1” by the FIA.

    However the Silverstone International and National circuits are only rated as Grade 2 (as of the end of 2018 – couldn’t find anymore up to date info but I doubt its changed), and again this would reuqire work to bring them up to the required standard. Also unsurprisingly circuits are rated on a particular direction so reverse circuits would also require testing.

    The only track with alternative layouts sanctioned to run F1 races is Bahrain, where all 4 layouts – the Grand Prix, The Endurance (of 2010 fame), The Ocean and the intriguing “Outer” circuit are rated FIA Grade 1. This could further point to why Bahrain is a popular choice as they could run multiple races there with different layouts.

    As it stands, without track/safety modifications I cannot see any alternative layouts being permitted for use other than Bahrain.

    The list is here if you want to dream up your ideal possible calendar:

    1. @Gavin Campbell Paul Ricard also has good flexibility when it comes to layout-options, but unfortunately, this is all irrelevant now as it won’t get rescheduled for later this year.

    2. Wikipedia mentions the following layouts: “Endurance Circuit”, A flat oval, “Grand Prix Circuit”, “Inner Circuit”, “Outer Circuit”, “Paddock Circuit”

      What do you mean by the Ocean?

  8. Thanks for the commentary to add to the “liberty announces plans” articles. As you mention, It makes sense for them to try to get in an extra race right at the start, if both Austria and the UK are willing to go along (one to favour its large influencer Red Bull, the other to try and save motorsport) so they have a decent amount of “races on the board”.
    IF they manage to do those two, they could still get both Abu Dhabi and Bahrain to hold two races as well, giving at least the 8 minimum to qualify as a World championship, although having at least an extra race in Asia – China showcasing that “it is safe here again” and chipping in with the cost, Putin throwing in Sochi for an extra “european” race that can be “asian” too dependant on how they need to present stuff.

    that would give the championship 10 races (or would they do 2 races in China and Sochi too??) and a couple of months to try and squeeze in a few more.

    Who knows how Texas will be looking by november, they might be able to get a race in? I doubt it will be safe, but I guess if Austria and the UK “work” then Austin won’t be any less safe. And if F1 offers the money that might save CotA from bancrupcy, so the promotor will surely grab the chance (I don’t think a crowd is likely to be allowed).
    I guess Abe might want to showcase that he got Japan back under control? And Honda would probably by inclined to do so too.
    The time is there to pair Japan with a China event. And leave a month to go to the USA before finishing off the season in the middle east.

    With all that, it could really give us up to some 16 races, I would hope that if they do travel, they do 2 races at most of those locations. If they are going there anyway, surely doing a double dipping is a better use of time than just having to pack up again and repeat.

    I don’t think that anyone will be seriously trying to get Monza on the calendar this year. Although, if Ferrari (and the FIAT owners, probably the whole Industry lobby) would put as much of their power behind it as Red Bull has been doing in Austria, it might still happen.

    Personally I am sceptic that all of that will work out. Putin will want Sochi to happen, but will F1 be able to buy his assurances of safety? Pretty much the same goes for China, although I would trust the Chinese far more to be actually capable of managing to keep the 1000-1500 F1 crew isolated and tested.

  9. Apart from the obvious reliance on host countries actually allowing international visitors (including all F1 team personnel and drivers) free passage without mandatory quarantine, or even allow “events” to occur, I have a huge fear that these plans could have a massively negative financial impact on teams.

    Consider this :-
    Liberty is not going to generate anywhere near the income it would normally generate during the course of a season. Their primary aim seems to be to get paid by the broadcasters and they seem quite prepared to pay for races (increased cost) to “hopefully” gain the fees from broadcasters.
    If for some reason they’re unable to hold 15 or more races (you’d have to say that’s more on the probable side of likely) then they “may” receive a lower amount of fees – that would depend on how the contracts are written.
    I’d expect that F1’s corporate sponsors like Heineken also would pay less (if any) for a shortened season – again tho would be subject to the wording of that contract

    So the bottom line = Liberty will have less, and quite probably substantially less, income available for distribution to the teams.

    However, teams will still be required to cover the costs of “going racing” – Salaries, transport, PU’s, Spare Parts, Tyres etc which means their operational costs will be lower than a full season but still high and still required to be paid out of cash flow.
    I’m also assuming team sponsorship will take a hit, either because they (the sponsors) can’t afford to pay it given the hit their companies have taken, or because they’re not getting a full season of exposure.

    So what we could very well end up with is a number of teams being financially crippled because they will be forced to pay to go racing with no real guarantee that they’ll get much (if any) in return from F1 distribution and their sponsors.

    My question is simply: Can someone with access to team financial information @dieterrencken or @keithcollantine show conclusively that it will be in the best interests of the teams to move forward with this proposal of holding races at all costs?

  10. As each and every day [ in lock down ] passes I scan all the possible news sites in the hope that someone, somewhere can somehow come up with plans to get racing again. The virus is the virus and what will be will be. The people involved in this will be exhaustively searching for a workable plan/plans to get the show on the road and i’m equally positive that all options will considered in great depth. It matters zip whether we get eight, ten or whatever races….just so long as we get the maximum possible under the existing circumstances. I very much doubt that anyone will be risking their lives as there will be stringent screening and all other ancilliary precautions in place before a wheel is turned. The logistics will be mind boggling but if anyone can pull it off. F1 can.I’ve been watching motorsport since well before F1 was even on the board and can’t remember when any season was so affected or even a race failing to start on time in the right location anywhere!!

  11. I can’t see how even Austria could happen. Yes they seem to be doing well with how they are handling the pandemic but it would be reckless to let so many people from different countries come in all at once. And i mean only the Team staff, Drivers, FIA, F1 staff needed to get the race going. Unless a country is able to open its borders to anyone, it doesn’t make sense. Plus how can you police a full quarantine of all these people prior and between each race.

    1. Austria has a private airfield next to the track so i don’t think it will be a problem.

  12. If the organisers of the Austrian and British GPs find a way to hold races then I expect Italy will want to as well. One of the reasons being that I believe the UK and Italy are the only countries to have always appeared on the F1 calendar. I am more sure about Italy but I think the UK as well. So I am pretty certain if the first two manage to hold a race then Italy will want to as well just to maintain the seqence.

    I do accept of course the respective governments may not allow this and we are now in highly unusual circumstances.

  13. Another important factor hardly touched on is the complication of renegotiating existing contracts and financing.
    Most races get substantial government funding, but only because of the benefits brought by hosting an F1 race.

    The main reason the Montreal race can get subventions from municipal, provincial, AND federal governments is the tens of thousands of tourists that come spend their money here. Since social distancing is likely to remain in effect until a vaccine is found, it’s unlikely a race can be held with fans in attendance — if you’ve ever sat in a GP grandstand, you’ll remember that you have about a dozen people within 2 meters of you!

  14. Until a reliable vaccine is available to all, most non-essential international activities will not be allowed. Such vaccine is likely 3 to 5 years out. Contrary to many F1 fans’ belief F1 is not essential to the future of life on this planet. So we may not see another race for a very long time. C’est la vie.

  15. I don’t think I could recognise Ricciardo with a face mask on, but I will assume he is grinning anyway.

    1. @ Pierre….You just know that there is a beaming smile in there, no matter what. His sunny attitude would be very welcome in these very dark times.

Comments are closed.