Calendar compressions in the wake of COVID-19

Everything is on pause at the moment after numerous motorsport series postponed or cancelled events or have suspended their championship entirely in the wake of the escalation of the COVID-19 outbreak.

With the ever developing situation it is difficult to say when racing will get back underway with some series hoping to resume in late May while others may have to wait until June/July or even later, depending on how effectively the pandemic is managed.

This causes a problem for many racing series, and to a greater extent any sport, as they attempt to rearrange their sporting calendars.

Prior to the current pandemic racing calendars have been getting bigger over the last couple of decades. Take for example MotoGP which has been steadily expanding, originally planning 20 events for this season. While there has been plenty of talk about Formula 1 expanding to 22 events in its 2020 season.

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That isn’t to say that every racing calendar is congested with there being exceptions such as the Japan based Super Formula series which had 7 events planned for its 2020 season, while many junior categories have a similar sized calendar to that of the likes of Super Formula. Other series such as IndyCar had around 17 events planned for this season.

However with a congested calendar comes big drawbacks, one of which the current pandemic has highlighted. It can become difficult to reschedule any postponed or cancelled events, a good example is the Formula 1 Chinese Grand Prix which many believed prior to the Australian Grand Prix would ultimately have to be dropped.

Despite the current pandemic, many racing series still want to maximise their 2020 calendar with series such as MotoGP and Formula 1 stating that they want to be able to contest as many of their originally planned events as possible once the current pandemic is nearing its end. This has led in some cases, such as in MotoGP, publishing a revised calendar which contains multiple triple headers.

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Holding events/Grand Prix/races, however you wish to refer to them as, is one of the fundamental ways that a racing series generates income. This is one of the factors that led to the issues with the 2020 Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix, and is why calendars such as Formula 1 and MotoGP have the desire to continue to expand over the coming seasons.

It is easy to perceive that racing series often put the financial health of the sport ahead of the health and wellbeing of those that work in motorsport. However the global economy is taking a huge hit from the current pandemic and it will be important for the survival of some racing series, the continued existence of teams and therefore the continued employment of team personnel that as many events go ahead as possible once racing does resume.

This is in part why Formula 1 over recent weeks have decided to postpone the new technical regulations by a year from 2021 to 2022. It is also why the series has now created a scenario where those now new for 2022 cars will be designed and built under the new financial rules which will still be introduced for 2021, allowing the 2020 cars to be used for 2021.

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Back to the issue of racing calendars. It is right to point out that putting the financial health of a racing series solely ahead of the physical and mental health of those working within the sport is not right. Especially considering that many will already have been physically and mentally depleted by the pandemic.

All of this makes it important for racing series to balance their financial health with the mental and physical health of those involved in the sport. It is therefore worth exploring the ‘minimum number of events’ that racing series have written into their sporting regulations. This, as it implies, details the minimum number of races that need to be held within the season in order for a particular season to be valid.

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Let’s start with MotoGP who are required to hold 13 events in a season. The series originally planned a 20 event calendar but the MotoGP Qatar event is cancelled outright as there isn’t the possibility of rescheduling it. It is worth noting that both Moto3 and Moto2 have got one event ‘under their belt’ as they managed to contest their Qatar round.

Formula 1 meanwhile has a minimum number of 8 events in its 2020 sporting regulations. In theory this could mean that the series begins its 2020 season in early September, around the Italian Grand Prix and contest the proceeding 8 rounds as initially planned. However Chase Carey stated that he expected the ‘2020’ Formula 1 season to consist of between 15 to 18 races with the season concluding past its original late November 2020 date, extending into December or January.

For Formula 1’s support categories it gets particularly difficult as the minimum number of events for FIA Formula 3 (FIA F3) is 8 while the number of minimum events for FIA Formula 2 (FIA F2) is 10. For reference this season’s FIA F3 calendar had 9 events planned while the FIA F2 calendar consisted of 12 events.

Then there is FIA Formula E which is required to hold a minimum of 6 events. The series is perhaps one of the best placed as they have already held 5 events which is in part why the idea of hosting an event behind closed doors in Valencia was considered for a time. However the main issue for Formula E is that its season normally ends in July.

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There are approximately 30 weeks remaining in 2020 if you begin at the start of June and go through to late December. MotoGP would therefore need to fit 13 of its 19 events in this time while Moto2 and Moto3 would need to fit 12 from the same 19.

Formula 1 meanwhile would need to contest 8 events from the 22 it had initially planned within this time frame.

It is worth noting for FIA F3 and FIA F2 that although they are support series it is not impossible for either to hold a standalone event such as was the case for FIA F2 back in 2017 when it contested such an event in Jerez.

For further reference IndyCar has a 17 event calendar to potentially fit into this 30 week period, although it has hoped to begin its 2020 season in late May. While Super Formula has 7 events and Formula E only needs to contest a minimum of one more event.

The importance of a series minimum number of events is amplified due to the uncertainty of when the world will be in a state to allow sport to resume once again.

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That is in part why racing series haven’t ruled out scenarios such as holding multiple races across a weekend, as is the case in junior categories and World Superbikes, or expanding the ‘2020’ season into 2021, in a similar way that Formula E or the World Endurance Championship is scheduled.

The alternative to this is that a racing series decides to officially not hold a 2020 season, echoing times when sports halted in the wake of other global events such as the First and Second World War.

It is an uncertain time for everyone on Earth in the face of the current pandemic and sport is no different with a need for everyone to adapt.

 

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