Formula 1 hopes to get the 2020 season underway in May but as coronavirus continues to rapidly spread across the globe, the target seems optimistic at best.
Following the postponements to the opening four races of the season in Australia, Bahrain, China and Vietnam, F1 is aiming to begin the season in May, though the Dutch and Spanish rounds - currently the first races on the 2020 calendar to be unaffected on May 3 and May 10 respectively - are also in major doubt.
COVID-19 has already wreaked havoc upon the motorsport and wider sporting communities with a multitude of events being postponed or cancelled, and the situation shows little sign of improving in the near-future.
The Monaco Grand Prix - slated for May 24 - appears touch and go after the Automobile Club de Monaco temporarily closed its doors this week, though it insisted it expects both the Historic and F1 Grands Prix to go ahead. Construction of the circuit had recently begun but authorities in Monaco have since closed all non-essential public spaces.
The latest update came on Tuesday in the form of an open letter addressed to fans by F1 CEO Chase Carey, who stressed the championship was doing everything possible to get the season underway once it is “safe to do so”.
“We recognise everyone wants to know what comes next for Formula 1 in 2020,” Carey said. “We cannot provide specific answers today given the fluidity of the situation.
“However, we plan to get the 2020 Championship season underway as soon as it’s safe to do so. We are engaging with experts and officials on a daily basis as we evaluate how we go forward in the next few months.”
It has been mooted that F1 teams are on the verge of agreeing to an early summer break - originally pencilled in for August - stretching until the end of April. Such a scenario would open up gaps in the calendar to slot rescheduled races, with sporting chief Ross Brawn remaining “optimistic” of F1 holding at least 17 races this year.
But in reality, F1’s initial end-of-May start date looks less likely with each passing day.
Carey’s use of the word “safe” is key. At the present, even starting the season on June 7 at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix would be questionable given the worsening spread of COVID-19 across Europe and strict travel and quarantine measures being imposed.
A quick look across to other sport’s actions backs this up. The UEFA European Championship football finals - due to be held in 12 cities from June 12 to July 12 - has just been rearranged for a June 2021 slot, while the French Open has been postponed until September.
The Canadian Grand Prix on June 14 also looks unlikely given Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on March 16 that the country will be barring entry to almost all non-Canadian travellers who are not citizens or permanent residents in a bid to stem the flow of the coronavirus pandemic.
Next up is the French Grand Prix at Paul Ricard on June 28. Unless there are drastic improvements to the country’s rapidly-escalating confirmed number of coronavirus cases and deaths, it is hard to see the race going ahead. Particularly after France imposed a near-total lockdown beginning this week. Despite this, French GP organisers have insisted the race is set to go ahead as planned as per French government rulings as things stand.
Extensive restrictions are in place throughout Austria too, which would be the next possible race in the event of France being affected, and by that point we are already into early July. Then comes the British Grand Prix on July 19, but with the spread of coronavirus not expected to peak in the UK until June, Silverstone’s position on the calendar is likely to become fragile.
Given that seven of F1’s 10 teams have bases in the UK, with two others in Italy - the worst-hit European country - the picture instantly becomes even more complex. It seems doubtful that mainland European countries would allow thousands of potentially-infected people through their borders just for the name of sport, even if the situation has begun to improve by that stage.
Before we even get to the Hungarian Grand Prix on August 2, the likelihood of the opening (current) eight rounds going ahead looks precariously balanced on a knife edge.
Any hope of re-arranging five or more races into August and beyond would prove to be something of a logistical Rubik’s Cube and result in a heavily-congested end to the year that would put monumental pressure on all working personnel involved in the championship. Talk of double-header and triple-header events could be a way around that, but it is still far from an ideal solution.
Much will obviously depend on how coronavirus continues to develop in the coming weeks and months, but the flu-like virus has provided F1 with arguably the biggest headache it has ever had since its formation 70 years ago.