PARIS • It was supposed to be a record 22-race world championship but with seven Grands Prix either postponed or cancelled already, this Formula One season has become a shorter, tightly-packed and economically challenging sprint for the title.
The season opener in Australia and F1’s iconic Riviera showpiece in Monaco has been axed.
Races in Bahrain, Vietnam, China, Netherlands and Spain have also been shelved but with organisers still hoping to shoehorn them into a breathless finale once the threat of the coronavirus has subsided.
A season which should have kicked off in Melbourne last Sunday will now not start until Azerbaijan on June 7 – at the earliest.
“It’s super complicated to redo a calendar because you don’t know when everything will be operational,” said Frederic Vasseur, the team principal of Sauber.
“You need to have a global vision. England is not too affected at the moment but it could be when Italy is less affected,” he added in reference to the two countries which play host to most of the teams in the world championship.
There are still 15 races left on the schedule, including the conclusion at Abu Dhabi on Nov 29.
Last weekend, F1 sporting director Ross Brawn said he was optimistic of a “17-18 race” championship.
However, that was when only Australia, Bahrain, Vietnam and China had been affected.
On Thursday, the Dutch Grand Prix, slated to make its return to the calendar for the first time since 1985 on May 3, and the Spanish event, set for May 10, were postponed.
The May 24 Monaco GP, an annual showstopper since 1955, was also cancelled.
OPEN TO CHANGES
I think what we need from the teams this year is flexibility, I think they’ve got to give some scope to do these things. Because we are in very unusual circumstances…
ROSS BRAWN, F1 sporting director, on adapting to the impact caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, who is seeking a seventh world title this season to equal Michael Schumacher’s record, tweeted that the delayed start to the season is “the right decision for everyone’s health and well-being”.
F1 and the FIA expect to begin the season as soon as it is safe to do so after May, but will continue to monitor the situation.
The traditional three-week shutdown in August has been also scrapped, to be replaced by a 21-day break this month and next, in an attempt to allow the postponed races to take place in the summer.
To rescue the calendar, there is an option of two races being held on the same weekend.
“It’s possible,” said Brawn, eyeing the period between the Hungarian GP on Aug 2 and Belgium race on Aug 30.
“One thing we have also been talking about is two-day weekends, and therefore, if we have a triple header with two-day weekends, that could be an option.”
F1 experimented with three races in a row in 2018 but support was lukewarm from teams who sweated over staff fatigue.
“I think what we need from the teams this year is flexibility, I think they’ve got to give some scope to do these things,” added Brawn.
“Because we are in very unusual circumstances… I’m sure the teams will be flexible to allow us to fit those things in.”
More than ever, bank balances and income will be key this year as teams and organisers grapple with the implications of a shorter, crammed season.
“The costs are not necessarily much lower if you do 18 races rather than 22,” said Vasseur.
“Also, our income will be less – we do fewer races, we will have less commercial rights.”
F1 has also postponed sweeping technical changes from next year to 2022.
It added that “due to the currently volatile financial situation” caused by the virus, teams will also use this year’s cars next season with talks ongoing over ways to make further significant savings.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS