Will previously postponed races be rescheduled for later in the year, and if they aren’t, will races at new venues be added in order to bulk out the calendar?
BEIJING – Formula 1 CEO Chase Carey’s announcement on Monday that the 2020 F1 season would likely begin in July has set tongues wagging about how the series would restart and what this year’s championship might look like.
Under Carey’s proposal, the revised season would see races clustered together geographically, with European rounds taking place in July, August and September – initially behind closed doors – before events in Asia and the Americas.
Carey added that Bahrain and Abu Dhabi would then form the final races of the season in December, meaning even this curtailed version of the season could feature up to 18 Grands Prix – just four shy of the 22 originally scheduled.
Assuming that Carey’s plan for 18 races crammed into just six months is realistic, it raises two key questions: Will previously postponed races be rescheduled for later in the year, and if they aren’t, will races at new venues be added in order to bulk out the calendar?
The answer to the second question remains shrouded in mystery. An announcement earlier this month that the Portimao and Estoril circuits in Portugal had been upgraded to FIA Grade 1 status – a prerequisite for hosting a Grand Prix – fueled speculation that they may be drafted in to host races in a revised F1 season. But while Carey’s statement made no mention of any circuits not currently on the 2020 calendar, his namechecking of Bahrain in December strongly suggests that F1 will look to reschedule events that have fallen victim to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Bahrain Grand Prix was originally scheduled to be the second race of the season on March 22 before it was called off. But the Sakhir circuit’s proximity to Abu Dhabi and its agreeable December weather makes it eminently feasible for back-to-back races to be staged in the Middle East at the tail-end of the year.
F1’s apparent willingness to accommodate Bahrain is also good news for those wishing to see the Chinese Grand Prix return to the 2020 calendar. Initially slated for April 19, the Shanghai race was the first to be postponed as the Covid-19 outbreak hit China, but the clustered nature of Carey’s revised calendar could see the event return to coincide with other East Asian races in Singapore and Japan.
The Singapore Grand Prix is currently scheduled for September 20, while the Japanese event at Suzuka is to run on October 11, and though the constantly evolving nature of the 2020 season means these dates are subject to change, it is reasonable to assume that a three-pronged Asian swing would take place around then with Shanghai added in.
There is historical precedent for the Chinese Grand Prix to be held in the latter half of the year too; before it was moved to its April slot in 2009, the race had previously featured at the back end of the F1 calendar, notably hosting the 2005 season finale on October 16. The Shanghai International Circuit has also frequently played host to other international events even later in the year, with rounds of the World Endurance Championship perennially taking place there as late as mid-November. And after having initially closed its doors at the height of China’s Covid-19 outbreak, the Shanghai track is now semi-operational again, with a round of the China GT championship tentatively scheduled to be held there on June 26.
But while the pages of history suggest there is ample time to reschedule this year’s Chinese Grand Prix, such an undertaking will require a relaxation of China’s Covid-19 containment measures, notable among which is a ban on all non-Chinese citizens entering the country. However, as China continues its recovery from the pandemic, there are signs that the current restrictions may soon be eased.
Though there remain significant hurdles to clear before a Chinese Grand Prix in 2020 becomes a reality, that notion is less fanciful than it seemed in February, and an F1 race in Shanghai in October – potentially coinciding with China’s National Day holiday – may be the perfect setting for global motorsport to mark a triumphant return to the world’s most populous nation.