This may be the first of many 2021 F1 calendar reshuffles

2021 F1 season

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It’s 10 months to the day since the season-opening round of the 2020 Formula 1 world championship, the Australian Grand Prix, was cancelled. At that time, for every million people in the world, 0.63 new cases of Covid-19 were being detected.

Today, the 2021 Australian Grand Prix was postponed by eight months as F1 acknowledged “the ongoing situation regarding Covid-19 has meant it is not feasible to begin the season in Melbourne”.

The spread of Covid-19 worldwide has not yet begun to decelerate. Yesterday the rate of new cases stood at 94.63 per million.

The challenge F1 faced when it called off much of the first half of its 2020 season was a virus spreading around the world, killing people in significant numbers, for which no vaccine was available.

Sergio Perez, Racing Point, Albert Park, 2019
F1’s Melbourne race has been delayed to November
Today the picture is more complicated. Covid-19 is still spreading, and at a much faster rate, partly due to more virulent strains emerging. While advancements in therapies have been made, it remains a serious threat to life. Encouragingly, a number of vaccines are now available and being manufactured. The crucial question – for the world and not just Formula 1 – is how quickly they can be distributed and administered so that the rising infection rate reverses.

Against this evolving background, a preliminary 2021 F1 calendar was published in November, and revised today. In spite of the pandemic the championship’s objective remains to hold a record-breaking 23 races.

The reason for this can be summed up by the same three words Lewis Hamilton used to explain F1’s ultimately doomed effort to hold last year’s Australian Grand Prix as the pandemic began: “Cash is king”.

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In 2020 F1 successfully held a 17-round championship. But it did so by largely abandoning its lucrative ‘fly-away’ races in Asian and American venues and holding its season almost entirely within Europe. That hit its bottom line hard. This year F1 is determined to hold as normal a championship as possible, including its top-dollar events at venues like Azerbaijan and Singapore.

Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen, Monaco, 2019
The Monaco Grand Prix is just over four months away
F1 can point to its superb record last year in holding its championship while minimising the spread of infection. But where it can go remains subject to the rules of governments who have handled the pandemic in very different ways.

For example, the majority of Formula 1 teams are based in Britain, which currently has one of the highest rates of the Covid-19 transmission in the world: 881 new cases per million people yesterday. Contrast that with Australia, where the same rate is less than one per million, or Singapore, at barely five per million. Britain is pressing on with its vaccination programme, but it has also entered a third lockdown, and its death rate is climbing with shocking speed.

The overall risk of importing the virus drives governments’ decisions on who to admit and whether to allow exemptions for sport. How this risk changes will – hopefully – be strongly affected over the coming months by how rapid uptake of the vaccines are.

However some races are more susceptible to cancellation than others. And losing one race could harm the economic case for holding nearby rounds.

For obvious reasons, races on street circuits in city centres present greater challenges for containing infections than racing at permanent tracks in out-of-town locations. Formula E, which races exclusively on city tracks, has already postponed its season-opener. IndyCar has also delayed its opening round on the streets of St Petersburg, which was due to take place in March.

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Can F1 stick by its Monaco date in May, or Baku the month after? The Azerbaijan race is due to be followed one week later by a long-haul trek to the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve just outside Montreal. All three of these races were cancelled last year.

Start, Suzuka, 2019
Suzuka will conclude one fly-away triple-header
The alterations to the calendar announce today means F1 will race largely within Europe until the end of September. After that, a brutally tough run of near-constant races far beyond Europe’s borders are scheduled.

Last year F1 grudgingly accepted holding a string of triple-header events at European venues as a necessity to salvage its season. This year it is attempting to do the same with more distant venues: First Sochi, Singapore and Suzuka, then Austin, Mexico City and Interlagos.

All bar one of these races were called off in 2020. Should one of those not go ahead in 2021 it could affect F1’s business case for attending accompanying rounds. For example, going from Sochi to Suzuka via Singapore reduces freight costs, but the economics are spoiled if Singapore’s street race can’t go ahead. And this is before we factor in the complexity of attempting to allow fans to attend in any number.

Formula 1 bosses are in an unenviable position. Worldwide, hopes are pinned on the expectation that at some point, hopefully in the not-too-distant future, life will return to normal. But whether that will arrive soon enough for much of F1’s 2021 schedule can be completed as planned remains to be seen. Rapid improvements are needed from this point on for today’s overhaul of the schedule to be the last.

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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...

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16 comments on “This may be the first of many 2021 F1 calendar reshuffles”

  1. The calendar is going to change throughout the year, this is a fact. While governments in some countries are controlling the virus well and are aggressively rolling out vaccination programmes, others are losing control of the situation. Those that fall into the latter camp won’t be able to hold F1 races. I think 2021 is going to be much the same as 2020, I won’t believe a race is on until the teams actually start turning wheels at the circuit.

    I’d be surprised if we have more than 18 races to be honest…

    1. I would be even more surprised if we even get to see more than token audience numbers this year @geemac!

  2. Stephen Higgins
    12th January 2021, 12:10

    Monaco and Singapore at the least will also have to be postponed. Also can’t see the Saudi race going ahead also. All the street circuits IOW. Would also have serious doubts over Japan / USA / Mexico / Brazil too.

    1. I agree, not sure how they can go to all these places. If they manage a few of the ones they didn’t visit last year it would be great for F1.

      Would France and Zandvoort go ahead without spectators, or with reduced attendance?

    2. @Stephen Higgins Realistically no room for postponements, so either as scheduled or not at all. Monaco and Baku could be at risk because of when in the year they’re set to take place. Singapore isn’t due until early-October anyway, so too early to judge its chances of happening. Even more pointless to rule out Saudi Arabia this far in advance than Singapore, LOL. The same with the quartet of Japan-US-Mexico-Brazil.

  3. Interlagos is in serious doubt not only because of COVID but also legal issues. Yesterday (11/01), a Judge in the state court suspended the contract signed between the municipality and the new organizers because of (I) a lack of a bidding process and (II) overall lack of transparency regarding how much was actually spent on securing the event (P.S.: before now, the city did not pay racing fees).

    This decision is preliminary and may be shortly reversed in the higher courts, but it does not bode well for Interlagos’ chances of returning..

    1. @fw11b Thank you for this little insight. I wasn’t aware at all before about any ‘legal’ issues.

  4. And many on this site ripped me for stating “early” that no way Australia would happen as scheduled. So there.
    Now there is little chance that a normal season will happen in 2021. F1 will have to make up AGAIN the upcoming a 2021 championship at races we, as of this writing. Expect 2021 to become another championship that will require all kinds of adjustments so some of it will happen.
    You want to see Formula One this season and 2022, then get the VACCINE. Yes it’s a choice, but until percentages of the vaccination reach 70% for of all humans then we lose and all of this Covid lifestyle will be for nothing.
    I would rather see no F1 this season if it means the people of earth live another day.

    1. @Stevenholmes I didn’t. You were right to be skeptical early on. I also was to an extent. I agree with you on everything in your post.

    2. 70% is high number and it is vaccine PLUS people that have had and recovered from the virus to make up the herd immunity number. Even at 40% you start seeing declines in transmission (as we are already seeing in some places).

    3. You weren’t the only one that got a pasting for saying that.

      No doubt Keith will get a bit of a pasting for this article as well because he’ll get accused of having a doom and gloom attitude, but the reality is that so many countries, particularly the UK, where a majority of teams have their bases, have failed to gain any control over this disease.

      Until we see some of the worlds most developed nations actually get some control, I’ve no doubt we’ll see further disruption to the calendar.

  5. BradB thank you for sharing the knowledge of Covid vaccines. I suggested 70% (which is a fairly low percentage) but here in America the vaccine roll out has brought surprising numbers of medical people who are “passing” on the vaccine. WHAT????
    They are “passing” on the vaccine that was purposely held out for them to get the vaccine and become safer as medical workers in the midst of the fight against Covid AND somehow THEY decided to not bother with the vaccine at all.
    So getting to the Herd mentality may be more difficult than one would think. We in the US are having a Quarter of a Million people who get Covid daily and last week the daily death count Was 4,100 new deaths PER DAY just last week.
    I know this is the best F1 website in the world, but how can we even begin to think about racing. When Humans wake up and the foolish continue to drop dead and consider all of this as Fake News then those people are just dumb. Like President you know who.
    I had a better name for the deniers but as I’ve learned I gotta watch the language I choose here. I’ve been warned too.

    So please get the vaccine ASAP. It may be your only chance for surviving.

  6. Monaco is 4 months away, and they start preparing the track a month before that? and they need a lot of people on the streets working for that…

    No way that’s happening…

    1. @fer-no65 The build-up process for Monaco usually commences around mid-March or after. This year, in later February, though, because of an event that (IIRC) takes place four weeks before the Monaco GP. To put it simply, the ultimate deadline for Monaco’s fate this year is somewhere in the latter half of February.

      1. Sometime or some point rather than somewhere.

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