The racing season is set to re-start in July, after months of speculations and cancellations due to the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic. The ‘wreckful siege of battering days’ seems to be over, as the world is slowly coming back to a state of normality. Although the rough patches from the Coronavirus crisis have just begun, Formula 1’s season opener is going to be a double header at Spielberg on July 5th, whereas MotoGP is bound to resume on-track action a fortnight later at Jerez hosting a double race as well.
What stood out since the very beginning are the different approaches undertaken by Dorna and Liberty Media, when it came to taking action and adapt to the consequences of this dreadful global emergency.
HRC team principal Alberto Puig hailed Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta’s actions, whose steadiness and foresight translated into an early announcement on March 1st to cancel MotoGP’s first round in Qatar. The decision was taken based on travel restrictions imposed on travellers from Italy and Japan, as mandatory quarantine would have impeded the regular course of the event. Additionally, on the following day the Thailand GP was postponed solely based on ‘Covid-19 concerns’.
“Dorna has done things with its head, step-by-step, and always listening to the opinion of the health authorities [of every country].
“From there, it has been evaluating what could and could not be done, but it is very interesting how the entire group that works in the World Championship has been protected. If we compare it with F1, with soccer institutions or with the International Olympic Committee – which have been very hesitant – Dorna has done what it had to do.”
“From the first moment, they [Dorna] were aware of the magnitude of the problem. And for that, you have to have clarity of ideas and be smart, and [CEO] Carmelo Ezpeleta is.”
Dorna got a head start on cancellations and postponements since the very first days of March, while F1 was nowhere to be seen until a positive case in the Australian paddock prompted McLaren’s withdrawal from the event. The official cancellation of the grand prix was announced with a 12-hour delay, just moments before FP1. Fans had already gathered at the gates of Albert Park, as Liberty Media and the FIA were holding meetings to determine the fate of a non-race that was already doomed.
F1 displayed unflappable optimism until the issue itself caused a major upset in the paddock. The only hint of alert was published over and over by the FIA in the weeks preceding the Australian GP, stating that the Federation was closely monitoring the development of the Coronavirus epidemic. Hours before the cancellation of the Australian GP Lewis Hamilton was extremely vocal on F1’s indifference towards safety protocols, from his ‘Cash is king’ utterance to the comparison with other sporting federations.
On Thursday March 12th he said: “I am very, very surprised we are here. I think it’s really shocking that we are all sitting in this room. There are so many fans here today and it seems like the rest of the world is reacting, probably a little bit late, but we have already seen this morning that [US president Donald] Trump has shut down the borders with Europe to the States and you are seeing the NBA being suspended, yet Formula One continues to go on”.
It was indeed too late when F1 realised Coronavirus was not just a Chinese-based issue. The FIA had announced the postponement of the Chinese GP (initially scheduled for April 17-19) on February 12th as the event promoter, Juss Sports Group, requested it. In contrast with that, Australian GP and Vietnam GP organisers downplayed the magnitude of the issue and welcomed F1 with open arms until restrictions and common sense imposed sound roadblocks on the continuation of the championship.
THE IMPELLING NEED FOR A CURE
Ezpeleta also outlined the possibility of not resuming racing without a vaccine, which currently stands for the essential precondition for fans to repopulate the grandstands. Holding races behind closed doors is, in fact, the only option contemplated until the end of the year in compliance with bans on mass gatherings from local governments.
While F1 still targets to put together a 2020 calendar featuring 15-18 races, MotoGP leans towards a cost-saving approach with 12 or 13 events in Europe only. Travel restrictions-related headaches will play a key role in establishing a feasible 2020 schedule, as mandatory quarantine policies vary from country to country.
MotoGP is set to dispute at least 7 races in Spain, embracing the solution of holding double events. The National Sports Council of Spain is back on the frontline to relaunch international motorbike events, fostering agreements between Dorna and regional governments to confirm GP dates.
"The Government is aware of the importance of motorcycling for Spanish sport, the relevance that society attaches to it and its enormous impact on the reputation of our country, not only from a sports point of view, but also for its innovation and the development of new technologies,” said Irene Lozano, President of the CSD.
The situation in the UK appears rather nebulous compared to Spain ramping up its support towards racing. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has assured that the British GP double header will go ahead, although shifting to a later August date is an option. Discussions with the Government are ongoing, as F1 confirmed, in order to exempt F1 personnel from 14-day quarantine.