Coronavirus, F1, & the motor sport calendar: cancelled events and the return of racing

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Formula 1 will not race until July at the earliest, with disruptions to the Moto GP, Formula E and WEC season but NASCAR has started racing once more. Here's how motor sport has been hit by coronavirus restrictions

Worker with face mask in front of F1 Vietnamese Grand Prix poster

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The 2020 motor racing calendar was stripped bare by the coronavirus pandemic, but after weeks of lockdown, an end appears to be in sight, as Formula 1, the World Endurance Championship (WEC) and national series, including the British Touring Car Championship in (BTCC) make plans for the return of racing.

The Austrian Grand Prix is set to be the first F1 race of the year — probably behind closed doors — and the season could include 18 races between the summer and December. The Le Mans 24 Hours has been rescheduled to September, and other series, including MotoGP are finalising their plans.

NASCAR became the first major series to return to the track during the pandemic, hosting two rounds at Darlington and Charlotte in May, and has made plans to stage the next five rounds of the 2020 season.

However, Wales Rally GB organisers could not see beyond the uncertainty of restrictions and have cancelled this year’s event.

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Most championships are eyeing a July or August start date and hoping to cram in as many races as possible between the relaxation of restrictions and the end of the year.

Formula 1 brought forward its summer shutdown to schedule more races in August. WEC will delay the start of next season to allow the current one to finish.

In Britain, Motorsport UK — which governs four-wheeled motor sport in the country — has suspended all event permits until at least the end of June. The British Touring Car Championship is now looking to begin in August, cramming in 27 races before the end of the year.

Click to see how coronavirus is affecting each of the major series and their plans to return racing below or scroll down to view all

Formula 1

Australian GP start Melbourne 2019

Australian GP remains the opening race of the 2020 F1 season

Grand Prix Photo

Formula 1 has announced its initial plans to resume racing, following the postponement or cancellation of ten grands prix.

The Austrian Grand Prix on July 5 is pencilled in as the first race of the season — it was originally going to be the 11th race of the year, and is set to host a double-header to kick off the 2020 season.

Silverstone has agreed a deal with F1 to host the following two rounds, and with special permissions granted by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, plans to schedule two races in August are underway though no confirmation has been made.

Racing will continue in Europe over the summer, with the hope that the paddock will then visit Eurasia, Asia and America in the autumn, followed by the Bahrain and Abu Dhabi races in December, closing a season that could cram in 18 races.

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F1’s CEO, Chase Carey, said: “We expect the early races to be without fans but hope fans will be part of our events as we move further into the schedule.

“We are now increasingly confident with the progress of our plans to begin our season this summer.”

A new calendar is expected to be published in the coming weeks but three races will definitely not be held this year. The French, Monaco and Dutch Grands Prix have been cancelled, with 2020 being the first year since 1954 the race hasn’t been on the F1 calendar.

 

Coronavirus changes to the 2020 Formula 1 calendar – first 12 races

Race

Date

Status

Australian Grand Prix 13-15 March Cancelled
Bahrain Grand Prix 20-22 March Postponed (date unknown)
Vietnamese Grand Prix 3-5 April Postponed (date unknown)
Chinese Grand Prix 17-19 April Postponed (date unknown)
Dutch Grand Prix 1-3 May Cancelled
Spanish Grand Prix 8-10 May Postponed (date unknown)
Monaco Grand Prix 21-24 May Cancelled
Azerbaijan Grand Prix 5-7 June Postponed (date unknown)
Canadian Grand Prix 12-14 June Postponed (date unknown)
French Grand Prix 26-28 June Cancelled
Austrian Grand Prix 3-5 July Likely to be held behind closed doors
British Grand Prix 17-19 July Likely to be held behind closed doors


Formula E

The 2019/20 Formula E season has been suspended indefinitely due to the coronavirus outbreak the series has announced.

According to the statement released by Formula E, the current target is to get back to racing in July, but the remaining rounds in London and New York look pose no end of problems, and the series is looking to add stand-in races to the calendar by making some rounds double-headers, adding events on existing circuits or racing behind closed doors.

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More than a quarter of Formula E race weekends have already been disrupted due to coronavirus, with the Jakarta ePrix the latest to be postponed under orders of Indonesian officials. The Sanya ePrix in China was cancelled and the Rome ePrix and Berlin ePrix have been postponed.

The two remaining races on the calendar are far from straightforward: New York, is at the heart of America’s coronavirus outbreak, and London, where the track was due to go through the ExCel centre, which is now host to a Nightingale Hospital.

Coronavirus changes to the 2020 Formula E calendar – March to July

Race

Date

Status

Sanya ePrix 21 March Cancelled
Rome ePrix 4 April Postponed (date unknown)
Paris ePrix 18 April Postponed (date unknown)
Seoul ePrix 3 May Postponed (date unknown)
Jakarta ePrix 6 June Postponed (date unknown)
Berlin ePrix 21 June Postponed (date unknown)
New York ePrix 11 July tbc
London ePrix 25-26 July tbc


World Endurance Championship

The World Endurance Championship has announced a series of moves as a result of the pandemic, including new race start times and dates as well as the delay of the 2021 season.

The final race of season 8 will now be the 8 Hours of Bahrain on November 21, replacing the cancelled 1000 Miles of Sebring. The Le Mans 24 Hours has been moved from June to September, so competitors will now face four more hours of night driving.

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The 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps was postponed from April 25 to Saturday, August 15, but Belgium has since announced a ban on events attracting large groups of people until the end of August at least. It’s not yet clear what this means for the race.

The changes will delay the start of next season and the introduction of the hypercar category, which was due to begin at Silverstone on 5 September.

Season 9 of the championship will not begin before 2021, when it will return to an annual calendar, rather than beginning in the autumn and finishing the following summer.

CEO of WEC Gérard Neveu said that the revised calendar for WEC was a direct result of the financial impact the pandemic is expected to have over the coming months.

“We must be prepared for some big changes for next season because we will have to incorporate many parameters, starting with the inevitable economic difficulties that are to come.

“For the time being our overriding concern is for everyone’s good health, and we hope that everyone will take good care of themselves and their loved ones in the weeks to come.”

Coronavirus changes to the 2019/20 WEC calendar (March to September)

Race

Date

Status

1000 Miles of Sebring 20 March Cancelled
6 Hours of Spa 15 August Postponed (originally April 15) – now uncertain
Le Mans 24 Hours 19-20 September Postponed (originally 13-14 June)
8 Hours of Bahrain 21 November

 

MotoGP

MotoGP is looking to an August start to the season after rescheduling more than a quarter of the 2020 championship and cancelling four of this summer’s races.

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The first premier class race of the season in Qatar only featured Moto2 and Moto3 races, as the teams already present at Qatar’s Losail Circuit for pre-season testing.

Since then the season-opener has been pushed back further. Several early races have been rescheduled, while those in Spain, France, Italy and Catalunya have been postponed and have not yet been given new slots.

The latest announcement brought the cancellation of both the Australian and British rounds, with races due to be held in Germany, Finland and the Netherlands already cancelled.

The Czech Grand Prix is left as this year’s season opener, but it’s thought that the Austrian Grand Prix, on August 16, is most likely to host the first race – at this stage.

Coronavirus changes to the 2020 MotoGP calendar

Race

Date

Status

Qatar 8 March Cancelled (Moto2 and Moto3 races go ahead)
Spain 3 May Postponed (date unknown)
France 17 May Postponed (date unknown)
Italy 31 May Postponed (date unknown)
Catalunya 7 June Postponed (date unknown)
Germany 21 June Cancelled
Netherlands 28 June Cancelled
Finland 12 July Cancelled
Czech Republic 9 August Likely to change
Austria 16 August No change
Great Britain 30 August Cancelled
San Marino 13 September No change
Áragon 27 September Moved to accommodate Thailand
Thailand 4 October Rescheduled from March 22
Japan 18 October No change
Australia 25 October Cancelled
Malaysia 1 November No change
Americas 15 November Rescheduled from April 5
Argentina 22 November Rescheduled from April 19
Comunitat Valenciana 29 November Moved to accommodate Americas and Argentina

 

World Rally Championship

The difficulties of organising long countryside stages, while potentially having to discourage large crowds proved overwhelming for Wales Rally GB organisers, who said that there are too many uncertainties to commit to holding the event this year.

It joins Safari Rally Kenya, plus rounds in New Zealand, Finland and Portugal on the list of cancelled 2020 rounds.

The season began in Monte Carlo, but by the third round in Mexico, Covid-19 restrictions were starting to take effect.

Epidemiologists and health workers joined spectators on stages, while drivers and team members from countries worst-affected by coronavirus were checked and monitored.

In the event, the event finished early — on the Saturday evening rather than Sunday afternoon — to ensure that crews could return home, as several countries began imposing travel restrictions and airports closed.

Since then, the crackling exhausts have been silenced. Rally Turkey is the next scheduled event at the end of September.

Coronavirus changes to the 2020 WRC calendar (March to August)

Race

Date

Status

Rally Mexico 12-15 March Finished early
Rally Argentina 23-26 April Postponed (date unknown)
Rally Portugal 21-24 May Cancelled
Rally Italy Sardinia 4-7 June Postponed (date unknown)
Safari Rally Kenya 16-19 July Cancelled
Rally Finland 6-9 August Cancelled
Rally New Zealand 3-6 September Cancelled
Rally Turkey 24-27 September No change
Rally Germany 15-18 October No change
Wales Rally GB 29 Oct-1 Nov Cancelled
Rally Japan 19-22 November No change

 

British Touring Car Championship

The BTCC has announced plans to begin the season in August, starting with four events in five weeks, as it looks to squeeze in 27 races over nine weekends before the end of the season.

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Snetterton now sits as the season-opener on 25-26 July, but the series is preparing a revised calendar that could be unrecognisable from the original 2020 plan.

“If it is July [that racing resumes], that will still give us plenty of latitude,” Alan Gow, the BTCC boss told Motor Sport, before the latest suspension was announced. “We are all going to have a busy second part of the year. We’ll have to be creative and there will be a lot of back-to-back weekends, but the teams are up for it.”

Gow said that the series was unlikely to run behind closed doors to prevent mass gatherings because the number of people required to run the race weekend was already so large: marshals, team members and other essential staff add up to more than 1,000 individuals per weekend.

Revised 2020 BTCC calendar

Race Date Rounds
Donington Park 1-2 August 1,2,3
Brands Hatch 8-9 August 4,5,6
Oulton Park 22-23 August 7,8,9
Knockhill 29-30 August 10,11,12
Thruxton 19-20 September 13,14,15
Silverstone 26-27 September 16,17,18
Croft 10-11 October 19,29,21
Snetterton 24-25 October 22,23,24
Brands Hatch 14-15 November 25,26,27

 

IndyCar

IndyCar’s Month of May will not take place as scheduled, with the Indy 500 the latest race to be hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

Both the Indy GP and Indy 500 have been postponed due to the virus, with the series scheduling the race at the Brickyard for August 23.

“The Month of May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is my favorite time of year, and like our fans, I am disappointed that we have had to reschedule the Indianapolis 500,” Roger Penske said.

“However, the health and safety of our event participants and spectators is our top priority, and we believe that postponing the event is the responsible decision with the conditions and restrictions we are facing.”

IndyCar had hoped to run its season-opening Grand Prix of St. Petersburg with no fans in attendance, but the evolving coronavirus situation meant that a safety call was made to postpone the race, along with the three subsequent rounds in April.

The Long Beach race, scheduled for 19 April, has now been cancelled, after organisers said that rearranging the street circuit race was not feasible this year.

Coronavirus changes to the 2020 Indycar calendar — March to May

Race

Date

Status

St Petersburg 15 March Postponed (date unknown)
Barber Motorsports Park 5 April Postponed (date unknown)
Long Beach 19 April Cancelled
Circuit of the Americas 26 April Postponed (date unknown)
Detroit 30-31 May No change
Texas Motor Speedway 6 June No change
Road America 21 June No change
Richmond 27 June No change
Indianapolis Road Course 4 July Rescheduled (From 9 May)
Toronto 12 July No change
Iowa 18 July No change
Mid-Ohio 9 August No change
Indianapolis 500 23 August Rescheduled (From 24 May)

NASCAR

NASCAR hosted four races in the month of May, with two rounds taking place at Darlington and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

It is the first racing series to resume its 2020 season, with a revised calendar for June confirmed that will include social distancing measures.

Special rules were implemented for the running of the races in May, with no practice or qualifying taking place for three of the four races, the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte the only exception, though it was conducted on race day.

A race at Bristol on May 31 will round out the month, before NASCAR heads to Atlanta (June 7), Martinsville (June 10), Miami (June 14) and Talladega (June 21) for its next run of races and all three national series’ will be involved.

“As we prepare for our return to racing at Darlington Raceway on Sunday, the industry has been diligent in building the return-to-racing schedule,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer said ahead of the first race back from lockdown.

“We are eager to expand our schedule while continuing to work closely with the local governments in each of the areas we will visit. We thank the many government officials for their guidance, as we share the same goal in our return – the safety for our competitors and the communities in which we race.”

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