At midday on Sunday Melbourne time, final preparations for the Australian Grand Prix should have been taking place at Albert Park. Instead, I was sat on a sofa in London watching ‘Hunted’.
Race day was spent racing a go kart and watching real drivers compete in virtual events, and on Monday morning it was back to a familiar pattern of writing up reaction to the previous weekend’s developments.
But those developments are completely unique: not only having the race in Melbourne cancelled at short notice (the other reason I’m only writing this on Monday is that 96 hours in Australia does nothing for your body clock) but also Bahrain and Vietnam being postponed.
It begs the question: What happens next?
Firstly, for teams returning from Australia, the majority of the race personnel are being asked to stay away from the factories and offices for a period of 14 days. Or in Ferrari’s case, production has been suspended, while McLaren still needs to get its quarantined team members back from Melbourne in the coming weeks.
We’re very much in a holding pattern right now. Eight of the teams have some form of base in the United Kingdom – including the AlphaTauri wind tunnel in Bicester – and the other two are based in countries really feeling the effect of coronavirus, with Ferrari in Italy and Alfa Romeo in Switzerland. For all of those places, there’s no telling just when the situation is going to peak, and therefore when serious forward planning can take place.
Formula 1 and the FIA have already stated they are looking at a provisional window of the end of May to start racing again, but acknowledge that is a moving target that will have to be revised as the pandemic evolves. While the cancellation in Melbourne was horrifically handled due to a lack of preparation for the most likely scenarios, the sport must learn its lesson and be ready for a variety of situations with regard to when racing can restart.
The end of May is looking increasingly unlikely already, with certain European countries – including the UK – looking to delay the peak of the virus until the summer. I’m no medical expert, so really I should just sit here and say ‘we’ll just have to wait and see’, but instead I’m going to do a draft calendar based on the current outlook, because predictions always go well…
Monaco is questionable even if F1 does manage to restart at the end of May, but I think it’s most likely we will start racing in France at the end of June at this point. That’s because the races in Azerbaijan and Canada are logistically more challenging for the teams on shorter notice when they have to get freight out to each event, while the street circuit nature of Baku requires a greater lead time.
That last point also applies to Melbourne and Vietnam, so I think they are three that could well remain absent all year, even if that includes a new race. The risk with Hanoi is that any teething problems could prove additionally disruptive in a revised, condensed calendar.
Canada ideally needs to be run in the summer months and is a bit of an outlier anyway in its timing, while Spain only signed a one-year contract extension last year to buy time to work out its future, so if that gets deferred to 2021 I don’t think there will be that many protests.
All of that leaves Bahrain, China, the Netherlands and Monaco to try and fit in if the season starts at Paul Ricard on June 28.
Realistically, the easiest way of doing this would be to completely re-do the whole calendar, but there are reasons certain dates were selected in the first place, so the most likely approach will be to move as few existing races as possible. To that end, I think only one needs to be rescheduled and it’s the last of the lot.
Pushing the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix back by two weeks would open up key space late in the season while still protecting its position as the season finale. It would also be the easiest to commit to changing, as there is the most time before it is held.
Ross Brawn has said triple-headers are possible with a two-day race weekend, and has also suggested the summer break will be scrapped. Even though that break is currently written into the regulations, I can definitely see the latter happening given that teams would otherwise be facing a mandatory shutdown after just six weeks of racing.
That would then open up the potential to run Monaco in the break and make Zandvoort part of a triple header. The best fit would be ahead of Belgium and Italy – logistically nice and close and all well-supported races that wouldn’t be overly impacted by each other – while Monaco could slot in after Hungary.
The downside is that Monaco traditionally starts a day earlier and has the Friday free of F1 action, meaning a tight turnaround between Budapest and Monte Carlo, so a traditional weekend schedule might be required just this once.
Talks were already taking place about a triple-header of Brazil-China-Abu Dhabi, but teams were very reluctant to take on such a schedule of flyaway races. The gap opened up by pushing Abu Dhabi back, however, would mean Brazil and China could be paired, followed by a back-to-back of Bahrain and Abu Dhabi.
If that latter two don’t want to run side-by-side – which could also prove a sticking point when trying to get Abu Dhabi to agree to change its date – then Bahrain and China could be swapped (China and Bahrain used to be a back-to-back on previous calendars, after all, so China and Abu Dhabi is definitely feasible).
That would allow 17 races to take place from June 28 to December 13, or in other words, 17 races in 24 weeks. For that to happen, Brawn’s two-day weekend suggestion might be needed at all of the rescheduled venues, should the teams agree.
And that’s always going to be a major problem. Even if the pandemic is brought under control and there’s a clear start date that can be identified, getting competitors and race organizers to agree to such significant changes is not going to be easy. They all have their own interests to look after, even if getting as many races in as possible is crucial to everyone.
But that’s a bridge to cross at a later date. It really is a waiting game, and for now things of far greater importance must take priority.
Possible 2020 calendar
June 28 – FRANCE – Paul Ricard
July 5 – AUSTRIA – Red Bull Ring
July 19 – GREAT BRITAIN – Silverstone
August 2 – HUNGARY – Hungaroring
August 9 – MONACO – Monte Carlo
August 23 – NETHERLANDS – Zandvoort
August 30 – BELGIUM – Spa-Francorchamps
September 6 – ITALY – Monza
September 20 – SINGAPORE – Marina Bay
September 27 – RUSSIA – Sochi
October 11 – JAPAN – Suzuka
October 25 – UNITED STATES – Austin
November 1 – MEXICO – Mexico City
November 15 – BRAZIL – Interlagos
November 22 – CHINA – Shanghai
December 6 – BAHRAIN – Sakhir
December 13 – ABU DHABI – Yas Marina