Following Formula 1’s season postponement until the end of May at the very earliest, the sport’s organisers have major logistic and planning headaches if it is to salvage most of the 2020 campaign during the coronavirus crisis.

The season-opener in Australia was thrown into chaos when the coronavirus was confirmed inside the F1 paddock at Albert Park, with a McLaren team member testing positive for COVID-19, and despite a shockingly handled situation the sport called off the race 12 hours after the case had been announced.

The knock-on effect has seen the Bahrain and Vietnam rounds postponed, while the Dutch and Spanish rounds are currently assessing their respective options with further delays anticipated.

As things stand, F1 hopes to start its season at the Monaco Grand Prix on May 24, while still offering faint optimism for the aforementioned Dutch and Spanish rounds at the start of the month, but a pessimistic timeframe plots the Azerbaijan GP as the new 2020 opener on June 7.

If that is to be the case it leaves six races to be rescheduled, with the acceptance the Australian GP is cancelled for this year given the practical nightmare of trying to organise the Albert Park street venue at a suitable slot later this season.

F1 teams have been strongly against lining up triple-headers and numerous consecutive races in the past given the physical and logistical impact it has on personnel and preparations.

But if the sport wishes to recover any of its lost races it faces no other option but to concentrate its calendar over the final six months of 2020.

F1’s motorsports boss Ross Brawn has already targeted the traditional summer break as the obvious place to slot races back into the schedule, which might come as unwanted news to personnel with holidays and time off already planned for August, but given the unprecedented situation new measures will become the only realistic option.

Even before the summer break in August, a free weekend is available immediately after the British GP (July 19) and before the Hungarian GP (August 2) with the European races that need a potential reschedule looking the most likely options to take the gap.

That situation also applies to the three weekends free in August before the traditional restart of the F1 season with the Belgian GP on August 30.

The matter of cutting into F1’s summer break might be a sensitive issue but given the alternative is cancelling races that have already been postponed it means losing the summer break will be the favoured alternative for organisers.

“I think by freeing up the August break, we give ourselves several weekends where we can have a race,” Brawn said. “And I think we can build a pretty decent calendar for the rest of the year.”

F1’s current regulations enforce a two-week summer shutdown, meaning the sport would need to bend its own rules again, but a compromise could come through retaining the two weeks off prior to the Belgian GP and still slot in the Dutch GP immediately after the Hungarian GP on the free weekend of August 8-9.

While logistically it poses headache for F1 teams, pulling off a 900-mile trip in a couple of days, it isn’t hugely different to the Spa-Francorchamps to Monza sprint the sport annually sets itself and is going to do again this year.

But if F1 does opt to race between the British and Hungarian rounds as well as after the Hungaroring event, it stacks up a run of four consecutive races spread across each corner of Europe. Therefore, picking one of these opportunities seems most realistic if a shortened summer break remains in place.

F1’s owners will also be desperate to keep the Dutch GP on the 2020 schedule given its investment in seeing the race return from a 35-year absence and a massive redevelopment of Zandvoort. Additionally, keeping two Max Verstappen fan-friendly races in the Netherlands and Belgian a few weeks apart would offer a sufficient solution.

Another measure being weighed up is shortening the race weekends themselves to provide more time and greater flexibility between races. The concept is far from a foreign idea, given F1 is planning a reduction in its race weekends from 2021 anyway and this could even provide a handy trial period.

“I’m pretty optimistic that we can have a good 17-18 race championship or more,” Brawn added.

“One thing we have been talking about is two-day weekends, and therefore if we have a triple header with two-day weekends, that could be an option.

“I think we can squeeze them in. But it depends on when the season will start.”

Assuming the Australian GP is off for 2020, finding a gap for the Bahrain, Vietnam and Chinese rounds remains tricky but far from impossible, while the target of 17 or 18 races could see a handful of races drop off the calendar regardless.

Under the provisional expectation of current F1 races not moving from their original calendar slot, the weekend off on October 3-4 between the Russian and Japanese rounds would offer a sensible gap for permanent circuits options like Bahrain and China, as the all-new street circuit in Vietnam could be a more difficult answer.

But shifting around races still remains an option with the Abu Dhabi GP aiming to retain its final round status given the money it pays for the honour. It means it would be appropriate to push back the Yas Marina Circuit event into December in order to open up more time for the postponed Asian flyaway races.

F1 made a return to racing in December last year, albeit as the final weekend in November that saw race day fall on December 1, and pushing further into the final month of the year is viable with favourable climate conditions in the middle east and southern hemisphere.

F1 teams won’t appreciate the prospect of a shorter switchover period between the 2020 and 2021 seasons due to the essential time needed ahead of the regulations overhaul, but given most teams have already started initial preparations for the new rules early planning will become even more vital.

Where F1 can recover some lost ground over the failed Australia GP and hastily postponed Bahrain and Vietnam races is through making its plans, along with alternatives, early and public.

If F1 can thrash out a provisional calendar for 2020 over the next week it gives months, and in some cases over half a year, for all the teams and race organisers to prepare accordingly.

That way the majority of races can have the same lead up time it would enjoy to a regular season with regards to organising logistics, personnel, advance ticket sales and travel.

Naturally this tactic comes with its own risk on predicting the long-term impact the coronavirus will have globally over the coming months, but early planning gives the sport its best chance of preparing for all eventualities rather than 11th-hour cancellations that have occurred over the past few days.

It is the tactic MotoGP organisers have adopted as it faces the same challenges.

Dorna, MotoGP’s organising body, has already postponed all of its races before May (Thailand, United States and Argentina) and provided a provisional 2020 calendar with only the loss of the premier class Qatar GP.

While MotoGP officials are optimistic it won’t have to face any further alternations, it is fully aware of the scale and ever-changing challenges of the task. Alternatives on cancelling races and running the season into January 2021 have all been assessed and remain open if the situation demands it.

As the coronavirus spread remains almost impossible to predict months in advance, finding the perfect solution for all parties won’t be possible.

But in the biggest crisis the international motorsport community has faced in modern times, F1 has shown how bad it gets when staying reactive to the situation. Now it is time for F1 bosses to become proactive.

Current 2020 F1 Calendar
RaceDate
Australian GPCancelled
Dutch GPMay 3
Spanish GPMay 10
Monaco GPMay 24
Azerbaijan GPJune 7
Canadian GPJune 14
French GPJune 28
Austrian GPJuly 5
British GPJuly 19
Hungarian GPAugust 2
Belgian GPAugust 30
Italian GPSeptember 6
Singapore GPSeptember 20
Russian GPSeptember 27
Japanese GPOctober 11
United States GPOctober 25
Mexico City GPNovember 1
Brazilian GPNovember 15
Abu Dhabi GPNovember 29
Bahrain GPTBC
Chinese GPTBC
Vietnamese GPTBC
 

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