Sepang, 1999

More new races may come to F1’s overhauled 2020 calendar

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To illustrate to what extent Covid-19 has ravaged the Formula 1 calendar, consider the following: At this stage in a normal season the sport’s administrators would be finalising dates and venues for next season’s schedule. Instead they are still sorting the closing legs of this year’s truncated championship.

The 2020 F1 calendar currently comprises 13 confirmed rounds. The sport’s commercial rights holder Liberty Media still harbours hope for at least 16 grands prix before Christmas and is on target to hit that figure.

To put the numbers in perspective, recall that at one point various pessimists feared F1 would be forced to cancel its entire 2020 championship – a sad way for its 70th birthday to pass. Among the doomsayers was former FIA president Max Mosley, who argued the season should be cancelled.

Doing so would mean “the teams and the race organisers would have certainty so they can plan and take measures,” the oft-controversial Mosley opined in late April. “By waiting, you risk making things worse without having the certainty of winning anything. There’s no guarantee that the races can start again in July and it actually seems increasingly unlikely.”

Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari, Imola
F1 will return to Imola after a 14-year absence
While Mosley was correct in his premise that there are “no guarantees”, through meticulous planning F1 was able to ensure that it could exploit whatever opportunities presented themselves as and when they did arise. Thus not only did the sport pounce, but became the first global sport to stage an event, albeit behind closed doors.

Imagine, the alternate scenario, one in which F1 vacillated lethargically and ended up ill-prepared. It would be no exaggeration to state that more than a few teams would be in worse straits than they already are, as would be their staff and suppliers. Equally, more than a few sponsors would have baulked at invoices, while TV and associated contracts would have been in dire danger of lapsing.

Instead some teams have been spared possible bankruptcy, thousands of jobs have been saved and millions of fans have been able to partake in their passion again – all through preparedness. The key to recovery lay in the staging of Closed Events as originally proposed here, combined with back-to-back events at the same circuit where feasible. TV and sponsors contracts – trackside and on-car – were honoured, certainly in part.

The word in promoters’ circles is that Liberty drove hard bargains in the process, playing off potential venues against each other until the best possible terms were realised. For example, Silverstone was pitched against Hockenheim until its fees dropped to reasonable levels; later the German venue was pitched against bitter rival Nuerburgring and lost again. Imola and Mugello squared off, yet both were rewarded with dates.

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Teams can now rely on sponsor and F1 income for the year, with most expecting to bank around 60% of pre-season projections. However, lower 2021 operating expenses due to the double whammy of the incoming budget cap and retention of 2020 cars with only marginal development permitted provide partial recompense. Ultimately, F1 and its teams are surely in a better place than would have been the case without events.

Autodromo do Algarve, Portimao
Portugal’s Autodromo do Algarve is a new venue for F1
The net result is that the FWONK share price, having plunged to an all-time low of $20 in March, now hovers above $35. True, that is still a far cry from the share’s pre-Covid levels of close to $50, but who would have bet on a 60% recovery in four months given the ‘unprecedented circumstances’ or ‘the fluidity of the situation’, as F1 regularly refers to the hiatus forced upon it by Covid-19.

From a sporting perspective the most heartening developments – particularly for fans starved of action since pre-season testing in early March – are the F1 debuts of two circuits. Both, Mugello in Tuscany and Autodromo do Algarve in Portimao previously hosted tests, while the latter has long hankered for a full-on grand prix.

Such is their enthusiasm that both can be expected to do F1 proud. Mugello has the additional accolade of celebrating parent company Ferrari’s 1,000th grand prix start. If, that is, rising Covid-19 infection in Spain do not cause that race’s August 16th date to be scrapped without a replacement. In that case the Scuderia will celebrate its millennial grand prix in Sochi. Thankfully, at the time, of writing that looks unlikely.

Although Portugal hosted grands prix during the late fifties (at the Boavista and Monsanto circuits) and again between 1984 and 1996 (Estoril), the country had largely fallen off the F1 radar. However, the promoters have secured permission to stage the event with up to 65,000 spectators – tickets are already on sale via the circuit – so a celebratory weekend on the Algarve awaits.

Hanoi Street Circuit, Vietnam, 2020
Hanoi is trying to save its inaugural F1 race
Equally welcome is the return of circuits that once seemingly lost to F1 as a succession of the sport’s owners chased the mighty dollar. Two blasts-from-the-past, namely Imola and Nuerburgring, are mentioned above. Talk that Malaysia could return to the schedule in mid-November this year should not be discounted as idle chatter.

Vietnam remains desperate to stage its inaugural race, but such a trip makes commercial sense only if costs are spread over two Asian events. Initially Shanghai was to be twinned with Hanoi, but the Chinese authorities have placed bans on most international sporting events until the end of the year. Liberty needs a partner event to Malaysia which is close enough to share costs yet sufficiently distant not to potentially compete for ticket sales (assuming fans are admitted). Step forward Sepang, F1’s Malaysian home from 1999 to 2017.

A Liberty spokesperson would not be drawn on the chances of a Malaysian Grand Prix returning as part of an Asian set, but our sources are adamant talks are far advanced. “We could hear something soon, possibly even this week,” one proferred.

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Should a deal be agreed, F1 would head for Asia immediately after Imola (November 1st), then stage the two events as detailed before staging the final grands prix in the Middle East, in Bahrain and Abu Dhabi respectively. Our information is the Asian events would be held on November 15th and 22nd in a still-to-be decided sequence, with Bahrain and Abu Dhabi rounds hosted on December 6th and 13th respectively.

Don’t bet against this scenario. However, should the Malaysian/Vietnam duo not come off, then a triple-header set consisting of two races in Bahrain (the second potentially on a different track layout) and Abu Dhabi provides an alternate finish to the most tumultuous season in F1’s 70-year history. Another scenario has Turkey hosting a race, although this is thought unlikely given November’s rather chilly weather (12C daytime) and a need for rapid refurbishment to return the circuit to F1 level.

Chasey Carey, Red Bull Ring, 2020
Carey’s focus will switch to the 2021 F1 season soon
Either way, the championship is destined to feature 16 or 17 legs spread across at least two continents – in line with F1 CEO Chase Carey’s early projection of “15-18 rounds”. Who would have thought that back in March? Certainly not Mosley…

It is not, though, only the calendar that has been overhauled due to Covid-19, but in one case the traditional weekend programme. Track action at Imola will be confined to two days instead of three. This potentially indicates the way forward for future F1 schedules. The word is that Saturday will see a single, 90-minute practice session in the morning followed by qualifying in the afternoon, with support races slotted around the F1 sessions. Sunday will follow the traditional programme.

The downside to all these rearrangements is notable casualties, particularly in the Americas. However the loss of Brazil’s round is no surprise given the acrimony between Liberty and the race promoter, who holds a zero-value contract negotiated by the previous owners of F1’s commercial rights.

However, travel and tourism bans mean Austin, Montreal and Mexico are bigger picture losses, particularly as Liberty, a US company listed on NASDAQ, annually struts its stuff in Texas and hosts big-rollers at all three events. However, at least the grands prix are likely to return next year, pandemic permitting.

Permanent circuits that chose to drop off rather than host ‘ghost’ races include Zandvoort, Paul Ricard and Suzuka. This year’s loss of Zandvoort was a blow for hundreds of thousands of Dutch fans who voted with their wallets even before tickets for the return of the venue which last hosted a F1 grand prix in 1985, went on sale.

The promoters planned to attract 100,000 fans on each of the three days. Demand was so high thrice that could have been off-loaded if they had the capacity.

However, the promoters, who planned a massive ‘green offensive’ by restricting travel by car to the event, decided the return of F1 to the Dutch dunes warranted massive celebrations – complete with (local brew) Heineken parties, DJs and other activities. Then circumstances scuppered such plans, and thus the promoters took hard decisions. Next year’s parties promise to be even better, more spectacular, so book early as accommodation in and around Zandvoort is limited and frightfully expensive!

The French Grand Prix’s reason for sitting out this year is said to be economic rather pragmatic, for the event holds disaster insurance policies with pandemic indemnity. Thus, like the Wimbledon tennis tournament which was similarly insured and cancelled this year’s competition without major losses, the promoters could call off the event rather than battle on against the odds.

One of the weaknesses of Liberty’s model of targeting ‘destinations cities’ is, though, that these generally involve street circuits, which incur enormous annual costs. This year Monaco, Baku and Singapore could not commit to the expense of building circuits while enormous uncertainty prevailed. Clearly, they learned from Melbourne, which built its Albert Park circuit at an estimated cost of AUS $10 million (£5.5m), to no avail.

Still, despite the drop-offs, Liberty has done a fine job of salvaging this season. It cannot afford to rest on its laurels, however, for the 2021 F1 calendar needs sorting urgently. The potential after-effects from the pandemic are an obvious concern.

For example, Melbourne is unlikely to commit to 2021 track build unless the city fathers are absolutely convinced their event can play to a full house and not be disrupted again. Given that it takes two months to build the track, a decision would need to fall by the end of the year. Ditto Monaco, which needs to decide by the end of March whether to proceed with their construction works. Similar decisions could affect Baku and Singapore later in the year, particularly if second waves hit either city, and so on.

Start, Red Bull Ring, 2020
The new season has started – but when will it end?
Such factors can have severe knock-on effects – Australia’s freight costs are spread across a number of Middle Eastern and Asian races, while F1 calendars are generally built ‘outwards’ using Monaco’s traditional Ascension Day weekend as key dates. F1’s schedule is like a giant jigsaw puzzles, each piece interlocking with others. Discard a single piece and a glaring hole of peculiar shape is evident.

Throughout the current crisis Liberty has proven itself adept at slotting in replacements at very short notice, many of which will wish to feature again on future calendars. Thus this year has provided Liberty with a stock of back-up circuits; the downside is, though, that they are seldom a perfect fit for the spaces they wish to fill, nor do they pay top dollar – or they would have been included in the first place.

A further point to consider is that in most instances these stand-ins were offered races at bargain rates (or paid to stage events) due to Liberty’s need to string a calendar together in a compressed timeframe. Persuading promoters to sign up at full rates in future will be no easy task. Too much of a good thing cuts both ways.

Still, don’t be surprised if 2021 starts in Bahrain – preceded by testing on the desert island – with the calendar thereafter as normal a course as possible. If needed, Melbourne’s race could move to September as part of a set with Singapore and Japan. Until life returns to normality anything and everything remains possible, and that applies to F1 as much as it does to the rest of the world.

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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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48 comments on “More new races may come to F1’s overhauled 2020 calendar”

  1. If we were to get races in Hanoi, Turkey, Malaysia added to Portimao, Nurburgring and Imola, and then a double header at Bahrain on differing layouts and a finale at Abu Dhabi, what en epic calender that will turn out to be despite all the troubles this virus has caused.

    Such a shame Mercedes will be a second quicker than everyone else at every circuit too

    1. Hey, at least you’ll see Toto saying every weekend that RBR might be close this time around.

      1. Even if Red BUll fix their aero problem i expect them still 0.3 of seconds behind the black Mercedes but they will beat the Pink one.

  2. Anyone else having a complete nightmare trying to buy Portuguese GP tickets on their website? It doesn’t recognise that i’ve added anything to the cart. Tried ringing them numerous times where they suggested different browsers, clearing cache, nothing.

    1. Yup! They’re on sale now, reduced capacity.

  3. Either way, Liberty has done an admirable job.
    It makes you wonder how Bernie would have handled the situation.

    1. No kidding

      Bernie could continue the madness of his style of sarcastic response and in the end Formula One would end up getting its name change to F- DONE

    2. ThinkDoningtonSilverstone
      29th July 2020, 16:31

      Bernie would have made a point of being seen negotiating with Ebola in order to get concessions out of Coronavirus in a last minute deal.

  4. Joshua Miles
    29th July 2020, 13:58

    With the situation in Melbourne at the moment it’s probably likely the Aus GP will be postponed until late 2021. It can’t be in September though because it would likely clash with the AFL Grand Final and it might be interesting whether they’d want the GP in the same months as the Bathurst 1000 (October) or the MotoGP (November).

  5. Since race tracks have to pay to be part of F1, are they now being paid by liberty to host a race since they aren’t making money from gate receipts?

    1. @emu55 I assume Liberty have waived any circuit fees for hosting the grand prix. I’m not sure if they are actually paying the circuits in turn.

      1. That makes sense, I imagine the races will be cheaper to host due to not having to worry about all the logistics and infrastructure for fans too.

      2. Depends on the race. In some cases Liberty is paying a nominal fee to use the track. In others the local government is subsidizing that fee. And in other the promoter is paying some or all of their contracted host fee.

    2. from the article, @emu55.

      in most instances these stand-ins were offered races at bargain rates (or paid to stage events) due to Liberty’s need to string a calendar together in a compressed timeframe.

  6. With the situation in Melbourne at the moment it’s probably likely the Aus GP will be postponed until late 2021. It can’t be in September though because it would likely clash with the AFL Grand Final and it might be interesting whether they’d want the GP in the same months as the Bathurst 1000 (October) or the MotoGP (November). Also the T20 Cricket World Cup might be held around that time as well if Australia gets it in 2021.

    1. @milesy-jam So you are pessimistic about the next Australian GP taking place in March as per tradition? That’s around seven and half months away (assuming the race day would be March 14 at the earliest). At this point, I’m hopeful that next year’s race calendar is going to be more or less ‘normal,’ and by that, I mean more like how it’s been for a while running from mid-March at the earliest until around the end-of-November at the latest. Where could Melbourne realistically fit in later in the year given the scheduling of other races? Time will tell, I guess whether you’re right to be at least somewhat concerned this well in advance.

  7. Turkey isn’t going to come back even for a one-off purpose now. That we can definitely rule out for the two reasons as mentioned in the article, and in this case, the part about the circuit not being ready for F1 at this short notice is more relevant than the climate-aspect.
    Here’s how I predict this season to end:
    Malaysia (or Vietnam) November 15
    Vietnam (or Malaysia) November 22
    (alternatively, Malaysia on both 15 and 22)
    Bahrain December 6
    Abu Dhabi December 13
    or
    Bahrain I November 15
    Bahrain II November 22
    Abu Dhabi November 29
    (should no F1 racing take place east of Abu Dhabi this year)

    1. @jerejj Is that how you predict it, or is that literally what it says in the article??

  8. Courtney Ives
    29th July 2020, 15:03

    I’m very surprised considering the unlimited government finances and guaranteed hot weather, that the Losail International Circuit in Qatar hasn’t been mooted for when the F1 circus heads to the Middle East in December.

    1. Qatar

      That’s because Aramco’s full company name is Saudi Aramco.

      1. Losail is in Bahrain, not Qatar

        1. No, I’m getting it confused with Sakhir

        2. Kuvemar is referring to the Geopolitics of the region.

          Qatar not having good relations with the Saudia sphere of influence and all that.

  9. With Aramco and Emirates as corporate sponsors you think F1 would go to Qatar at present?

    1. Courtney Ives
      29th July 2020, 17:43

      Ahh! That makes sense, didn’t think of that.

      Dubai Autodrome? Or will Abu Dhabi have a veto?

      1. Dubai is not Grade 1.

        1. Anders Åkesson
          29th July 2020, 22:20

          Yes it is, until November 22 I believe

        2. Both the Grand Prix and International layouts of Dubai Autodrome are FIA Grade 1.

    2. Dear God, let’s hope not. But realistically, almost certainly not. Qatar doesn’t have any diplomatic relations with those countries anymore.

  10. playstation361
    29th July 2020, 17:41

    We probably may not see a big country which has more population after Silverstone.

  11. Zandvoort probably won’t be happening in 2021 either.

    The Dutch government only allows for 1/3 capacity in football stadiums for the entire 2020/2021 football season (seriously, cheering for your team is forbidden…lol). This means that those rules apply to every type of venue untill next summer (Zandvoort is in May, remember).

    Now, the Zandvoort GP organization are quoted to have said they chose to cancel this year, dispite the possibility to perhaps hold the event without fans. This was done because the Dutch fans make the event. The race was brought back to for them and so tt’s a deadhard dealbreaker for Zandvoort. Without the fans, the GP isn’t viable financially either and would probably be just a boring procesion since passing/following on the track is impossible.

    Now, with the prospects of fans not (fully) being allowed by the Dutch government next year either, that hard dealbreaker remains and therefore Zandvoort 2021 will likely be cancelled again.

    1. @jeffreyj, I think you right with that comment I couldn’t understand why they didn’t race without fans (if they didn’t have to pay) and there deal got extended with one year.
      The big problem they have a contract for 3 year and hosting only 1 with fans is a big loss for them. If the contract is going to be extended i think we will see racing (with or without fans or partial)

    2. @jeffreyj But not a given it’d take place around the same time next year as this year, though. I never really understood the point in putting it at the beginning of May in the first place given the high-ish risk of unfavorable climatic conditions for F1 at that time of the year. Only European circuits in the Mediterranean climate zone should be put earlier than mid-May.

      1. @jerejj It’s at the start of May because the Belgian GP demanded that a future Dutch GP would be as far away from theirs, calander wise, when they renewed their contract. Aslo, quite often May can be hotter than July/August around here for some strange reason.

        1. @jeffreyj When? I’ve never read nor heard the Belgian GP directly demanding something like that, not on this site nor any other site. Anyway, being in the summer wouldn’t necessarily mean being in August. I was referring more to June and July before the traditional summer-break period in a ‘normal’ season, i.e., being at some point between Canada and the traditional break. June would be perfectly fine. This year, the highest ambient temp reached on the day the Dutch GP was supposed to take place was 16 C and 14 C for the original practice and QLF-days. There were quite a few days with 15 C or less in May this year, while June saw 20s-figures for the most part, so that’d be a less risky option in this regard.

          1. @jerejj I believe I read it on here.

            I’m also pretty sure the new deal said two things about it: They had a clause that if a Dutch GP would return they’d get a discount from FOM on their race fee and secondly the place of a Dutch GP must be on opposite ends of the European season.

            Maybe @keithcollantine, @dieterrencken can confirm this or tell us a bit more about it, perhaps?

  12. Maybe the two-day weekend could prove not such a bad idea after all…but I wish that in that case they would bring back short Sunday morning warm-up session.

  13. Still don’t get why Hockenheim wasn’

    1. …wasn’t seriously considered. A double header at Germany would be fit. Regardless, the calendar feels great. If only Suzuka, Interlagos and Montreal could’ve taken part…

      1. From what I read hockenheim was only interested in having a race if they could have fans attend and the regional government there have already said they couldn’t have fans attend do they had to pull out.

        1. Oh, I see. Thanks, man!

  14. Somebody please draw a moustache on Chase’s mask. He doesn’t look quite right.

  15. A pity Silverstone apparently got too greedy (although you can’t blame them for trying to get even with F1 after what Bernie did to them) to do a deal with F1 for a series of closed door races (as I proposed March 14th. comments). I think the 2 races in Austria showed that holding multiple races at the same circuit did not result in same-same boring races, let’s hope for equally good racing from both Silverstone races.

  16. A 30 mins Free practice just before the start of qualifying is a good idea just like Moto GP. What if someone has a problem in FP1? their whole weekend can be severely comprised if FP1 is to be followed by Qualifying.

    1. @amg44 I expect the format to be a practice (the current FP3) session lasting either 60 or 90 minutes before QLF on Saturday.

      1. I wrote a single FP if 90 minutes on Saturday @jere @amg44

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