This summer, for the first time since the birth of motorcycling’s world championships in 1949, the United Kingdom will not welcome the world’s greatest riders and motorcycles to its shores.
The not-unexpected cancellation of this year’s British Grand Prix at Silverstone was announced last Friday morning, when Moto3 bikes should’ve been riding out of Mugello pit lane to start first practice for the 2020 Italian GP.
“It’s clear there are no winners in the current situation,” says Silverstone managing director Stuart Pringle. “It’s been a straightforward coronavirus conversation with Dorna, who have been incredibly easy people to deal with. There simply was no way through the logistical and operational issues resulting from the pandemic and rearranged calendar.”
“Although they still consider us as European, which is generous of them, if teams come here they’ve got to deal with 14 days of quarantine”
“The issue with Formula 1 isn’t so much about the British GP, it’s about the entire F1 championship,” Pringle adds. “Seven of F1’s ten teams are based in the UK, as are F1’s broadcast and commercial personnel. All these people need to be able to come in and out of the country in between races. The championship couldn’t happen unless key F1 staff are exempted from the British government’s current 14-day quarantine regulations, so there is an overriding UK business case for this.”
F1 is worth around £7 billion to the UK economy, which is why the British government is expected to confirm quarantine exemption for F1 staff any moment now. Meanwhile Dorna can’t rely on the UK’s general quarantine rules being relaxed in time for the British MotoGP round, scheduled for August 30.
“Dorna have got to start making plans by consolidating the MotoGP season around a European-based set of options,” Pringle continues. “Although they still consider us as European, which is generous of them, if teams come here they’ve got to get across 21 miles of water and then deal with 14 days of quarantine. And there’s no real UK business case for MotoGP, because none of the teams are based here.”
At the same time Silverstone was cancelled so was the Australian GP, scheduled for October 25. And those announcements were followed by yesterday’s cancellation of the Japanese GP, due to take place the weekend before Phillip Island.
This clear out of dates allows Dorna to reorganise the MotoGP calendar, starting with a double-header at Jerez in late July, hopefully followed by rounds at Brno, Red Bull Ring, Aragon, Misano, Le Mans, Barcelona and Mugello, with Valencia currently the last European round on November 29. But every single one of these events will be subject to national and local Covid-19 regulations, which will most likely keep changing. In other words, there are likely to be more amendments and cancellations. And most rounds, if not all, will take place with no fans.
“A couple of years ago this would’ve killed us”
Dorna’s first priority is to run enough races in Europe to build a reasonable championship season. Then, if the situation improves around the world, plans will be made to undertake as many out-of-Europe rounds as possible. Still on the calendar are Argentina, Malaysia, Thailand and the USA. If any or all of these can go ahead it’s likely that MotoGP will race in December for the first time in its history.
Silverstone does hope to host some high-level motorcycle racing this year – its British Superbike round, originally scheduled for April, for which Pringle hopes to announce a new date soon. Otherwise this will be the circuit’s leanest year since it opened in 1948, much like every other racetrack in the world.
“We are going to get through this by managing costs extremely tightly,” explains Pringle. “We are making extensive use of the Government furlough scheme, with over 100 full-time people and the same number of part-time staff on the scheme.
“Thank goodness we’ve made progress in the recovery of the business in the last few years, because a couple of years ago this would’ve killed us. We’ve been on a good steady upward trajectory, but we’ve taken virtually no money since mid-March and the overheads on a 550-acre site are massive. This crisis will probably set us back five years. We will survive, providing that next year is something like back to normal. If this situation continues and takes out a second season that will be… very challenging.”
Last week Silverstone hosted its first private test since lockdown, with a Formula E team, and the circuit is expecting plenty of F1 testing in the coming weeks as the seven UK-based teams prepare for the start of the F1 season at Red Bull Ring on July 5.
Silverstone’s current MotoGP contract expires at the end of 2021. Pringle is hoping to negotiate a new contract with Dorna.