The COVID-19 pandemic has brought life to a standstill on a global level not seen since the Second World War and sporting events aren’t immune to being affected.
The Canadian Grand Prix was the latest to join the list of now nine cancelled or postponed races in the 2020 F1 season, but that’s not been a surprise.
In Formula 1’s case, the announcements from the individual races are being drip fed but that is because there is no immediate rush to do so. The promoters and race organisers can take their time as this is a volatile and dynamic situation that needs to be watched on a week-by-week basis in their respective countries before conversations with F1 and the FIA.
WHEN WILL RACING START AGAIN?
I personally do not think the season will start before August, and that is probably optimistic. I’m not a medical professional nor a scientist so I won’t pretend to know how long this crisis will carry on. But from what I’m reading and seeing in the news, there’s a feeling that the summer months will be able to flatten the curve and stop the spread as long as we don’t have a second wave like the Spanish flu over a 100 years ago.
However we have to consider that Formula 1 is a global event, unlike say the IPL in India or Wimbledon. So even if the situation improves in Europe, but not in Asia or South America, then Formula 1 may not be able to resume. The travel restrictions need to be relaxed for people to come in from all over the world, as races take place in every corner of the globe and people need to be able to get into the countries without being quarantined. With the airline industry in a tough spot at the moment, even chartering planes isn’t going to be an easy thing to do, as the airlines you charter from need to have personnel available and aircrafts prepared.
On the flip-side, we can have a truncated season held later on, unlike Wimbledon, which can only be held during a certain time in a year. In Formula 1 we can be a little more flexible and juggle the calendar to have some form of a campaign. You can race in Europe from August through to October and race in the Middle-Eastern countries in the winter.
At least eight rounds need to be run in a season to constitute a World Championship as per the FIA statutes. So if we start in August and continue the season till the second or third week of December, I think it’s logistically possible to manage 12 or 13 race weekends. It will be a big commitment from everyone involved in the sport as it could mean triple headers or intense two day weekends but it’s all do-able. Personally, I would like to see F1 use the time to experiment with less practice sessions and two day weekends as well as even trying to do two races on the same weekend.
Ultimately, the biggest question is ‘when can we start?’. There are enough European venues which will be willing host races if the World Health Organisation and the various Governments clear it. I think all the European Grand Prix can be held quite tightly together. The Bahrain and Abu Dhabi races can be held towards December whereas I think races like Montreal, Baku and Singapore will struggle as they are temporary street circuits and they will have to prepare the track months in advance. I guess Singapore has the weather to run in December, but they would probably need to get the green light in August.
But the Chinese Grand Prix could take place, as the Shanghai track has announced that it will be open in June and life seems to be normalising there, according to my friends who live in the city. That would be an amazing story since China is where the crisis started. And finally, a quick North American leg can also happen depending on the pandemic situation there, with races in Texas and Mexico. So potentially a season could take place, but the main question is when it will be able to start.
THE POTENTIAL IMPACT ON TEAMS
I think the reality is that the whole world is taking a hit. Regardless of the scale of the business, whether it’s a local coffee shop, the retail stores, the travel and hospitality chains or a multinational corporation, each and every business is going to have their bottom line adversely affected in 2020.
Formula 1 is no different, everyone is in the same boat. The survival of F1 depends on how the sport reacts to this crisis. But there are changes being made, for example, by carrying over the 2020 cars in 2021 which saves the cost of building and designing another car. The sweeping rule changes that were going to take place in 2021 have now been pushed back to 2022 and there’s a high chance of them going back even to 2023.
The owners of the sport, the Liberty Group, are very aware of the problems that are facing F1 and the teams. Think of them like a government, and every government is trying to put together a package to help industries and businesses. Formula 1 Group, on a smaller scale is trying to do something similar. F1 has to ensure that teams are provided with aid, but it is also difficult for them as the sport is also losing out on income. The rights fees for races aren’t coming in and there is reduced sponsorship money because the season is not on. In simple terms, if there are no races, there is less money flowing in.
In terms of the teams, for Mercedes, Red Bull, AlphaTauri, Ferrari and Renault, as long as the parent companies and the factories continue to support them, they will be fine. Their parent companies have got enough financial muscle to survive the crisis, but the automotive industry has taken a hit worldwide which means that question marks remain over the manufacturers’ commitments.
Then you have the independent teams. These independent teams spend £100-150 million a season to operate and compete in F1. That sum is for a full season of 22 races. If there are fewer races, obviously less money will be spent, but the factory overheads of the teams are still the same. Racing Point, Williams, Haas and McLaren have announced that they are furloughing some of their staff which will be a saving in the short term.
A huge portion of the budget comes from TV rights, media rights and race hosting rights. All of this rights money constitutes a “Formula 1 pot” from which the teams share about 65% of the sum, while F1 keeps the rest of the profit. Now in order for the sport and for the teams to get through this crisis, F1 could make an exception and change that equation for this year. As an example, MotoGP have given one off payments to the independent teams this year to help through this financial crisis.
Then we also have the whole debate of the budget cap. It seems like most teams are in favour of a lower budget cap from the currently agreed US$175 million. In fact Ross Brawn indicated that his initial proposal a while ago was around the $130 million mark and that seems to be what people like Mclaren are pushing for. However the big players at Ferrari and Red Bull Racing seem to be opposing that, which has created a bit of a stalemate.
When there’s a will, there’s a way but unfortunately F1 people are wired in such a way that they often think of themselves before the sport. I guess that is the nature of sport, you have to be selfish to a certain degree to be successful. But at this point, F1 needs strong leaders – they need Chase Carey, Ross Brawn and Jean Todt to somehow come up with a concrete plan to deal with the crisis.
We are at a crossroads, where if the auto industry struggles and the manufacturers pull out their teams, F1 could go back to having more independent teams, with the manufacturers becoming engine suppliers. That was the model that existed for a long time till the early 2000s, when you had independent teams with an engine partner like Mclaren Mercedes, Williams Renault, Benetton-Ford, etc. That is basically what Honda are doing right now – they are not investing the money to be a full team, they’re just partners with the two Red Bull teams and there’s nothing wrong with that, it is actually part of the DNA of the sport.
So a lot of unknowns at the moment and that goes for life in general as much as F1. For now, all we can do is just stay home, stay safe and sit tight!
Thanks To Karun Chandhok is a former Formula 1 driver and now an expert analyst and pundit for Sky Sports F1 & Many Thanks To DriveTribe.Com
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F1 2020 NEXT RACE
|GP of Austria||05 July 2020|
|02h00 - 03h30||Free practice 1|
|04h00 - 05h30||Free practice 2|
|04h00 - 05h00||Free practice 3|