Lockdown restrictions and a shortened racing year means series are struggling to keep their calendars looking similar. Could these other FIA Grade 1 and 2 circuits be providing salvation in 2020 and beyond??
If all goes to plan, then Formula 1, Formula 2 and FIA Formula 3 Championship will hold their first races at the Red Bull Ring on the July 5/6 weekend behind closed doors. That weekend’s schedule will then be repeated in the following week, perhaps with the unprecedented but not mind-shattering solution of holding races mid-week to ensure most teams can travel back home and observe self-isolation measures in time to set off again at the end of the month (potentially by land) to the Hungaroring.
A one month break could then occur before the Belgian or Italian Grand Prix, and it’s not off the table that those or Hungary may move, before two sizeable (but to be filled) gaps prior to visits to Sochi and the Middle East that conclude F2’s season.
F2 and FIA F3 are all but tied to F1 for their championship rounds, for safety reasons as well as commercial ones, so any new fixtures will come as the result of additions to F1’s schedule. One of the more likely of these is a rescheduled Spanish GP, usually held at Barcelona, which if possible will happen sooner rather than later.
Spain’s current lockdown measures are some of the strictest in the world, and the different autonomous regions of the nation are relaxing precautions at different times. Catalonia, where the F1 circuit is, is set to remain in full lockdown into summer, giving F1 a short window to visit as the circuit is already booked out for September, October and November.
If Barcelona is not free to visit, then Spain has FIA Grade 1 circuits elsewhere capable of hosting races. Potential Formula E venue Valencia Ricardo Tormo reopens in June and has dates free in July and August where F2 and F3 could feasibly join in. The Valencian Community preceded the national state of emergency, and has now already started deescalation measures.
Spanish F4 plans to begin its season in summer with visits to Andalusia’s Jerez and Aragon’s Motorland Aragon, both circuits that are capable of hosting F1 and are in autonomous regions which are starting the exit from lockdown.
Junior series attempt to outdo each other with how many F1 circuits they race on, and once ‘F1 venue’ can legitimately be used to describe circuits like the above, their future use in junior single-seaters could be wider spread.
Another European country that is set to bring back racing behind closed doors soon is Germany, which has already faced a second wave of COVID-19 infections after starting its lockdown exit. Even if the country’s leader doesn’t apply an “emergency brake” that ramps up lockdown rules again, it’s unlikely that Euroformula will be visiting Hockenheim in June as planned. The circuit could reappear on the calendar later in the year, and even attract F1 too to please Liberty Media’s race count.
The cost of the venue means it isn’t one that series are fighting over dates at, but it’s used to holding F1 and its supports. In contrast, Finland’s new Kymi Ring circuit has ruled out racing this summer but needs a warm-up event before hosting MotoGP in 2021. Junior single-seaters could visit by land or sea, as the circuit is 266km from Russia’s W Series venue Igora Drive.
More likely to come to the salvation of F1 and junior single-seaters are Italy and Portugal. The rush for new dates at the most popular European venues such as Zandvoort, Paul Ricard, Spa-Francorchamps and Monza is still ongoing due to how long lockdown has lasted, with already rescheduled races being made provisional once again.
Some series are having to concede race meetings at such circuits, and have already looked at the venues that are now making news by being linked to F1.
Italy has three FIA Grade 1 race circuits (plus Ferrari’s Fiorano test track), and there is verifiable interest from former San Marino GP venue Imola and Mugello to join Monza on the F1 calendar. If lockdown eases enough in Italy for Monza’s race to take place, then there’s nothing to stop Liberty Media starting negotiations with the other two. To Formula Scout’s knowledge, Mugello could be adding at least one major single-seater series to its schedule which isn’t F1, although it is unclear whether the Mugello Grand Prix title would be reserved for a return of top level cars to the area for the first time since 1929.
Similarly, Algarve and Estoril in Portugal were being scouted out by junior series for winter racing some time before F1’s calendar issue became quite so apparent. This time the GP would certainly be reserved for world championship racing, as it was between 1984 and 1996 at Estoril, and the ease of abiding to COVID-19 measures and FIA-enforced precautions (and good weather) means both circuits are looking popular for repeat visits at the very end of this year and early 2021. The country is considered to have had one of the more successful COVID-19 responses so far, and it could prove to be one of more reliable places to host racing if the invasive illness is a recurring problem for international sport over the next few years.
It would also be a long overdue return of such racing to Portugal. Superleague Formula raced at Algarve in 2010, and the year before it was visited by A1GP, GP2 and Formula V8 3.5. Besides Auto GP’s visit to Estoril in 2014 and FIA European F3’s to Algarve in ’15, the only series that kept a presence in the Iberian nation after the global financial crisis was Euroformula.
And what of the situation outside of Europe? Buriram and Dubai Autodrome are two FIA Grade 1 venues in Asia that have been linked to hypothetical F1 breakaway series before but are unlikely to factor into Liberty’s 2020 plans. What’s more likely is that Asian series will restructure their calendars to visit fewer circuits but do so multiple times, as Formula 4 South East Asia has already done with its Sepang-only schedule, and these two tracks could benefit the most when it comes to new business.
F1 is expected to run the Chinese GP in November, followed by the rescheduled Bahrain GP and Abu Dhabi season finale in December. It is believed that F2 will almost certainly be on the support bill in Bahrain as well as Abu Dhabi, while FIA F3’s position is made less clear by the unknown running status of the non-championship Macau Grand Prix.
The fastest to return to action is the United States, where IndyCar it set to begin in three weeks’ time and its supports two weeks after that. As in Spain, the state and national governments have not seen eye-to-eye when it comes to responding to COVID-19. While circuits look set to remain open for the rest of the year, the country’s travel restrictions make the picture as unclear as in Europe for the coming months.