The Sunday digest: Further calendar woes and Cyril’s departure

baku, azerbaijan grand prix

I imagine that I’m not the only person who is tired of talking and writing about the COVID-19 pandemic, but unfortunately, it continues to take hold.

The human devastation it has caused is difficult to even comprehend and it has changed the way that we live our lives for the worse.

Thankfully, Formula 1 was able to provide a welcome distraction in the back half of last year, but I cannot escape the feeling that F1 and the FIA were overly ambitious in publishing a 23-race calendar for the 2021 season.

I wrote last week that the Australian Grand Prix’s postponement was unlikely to be a one-off and already we have seen the Chinese Grand Prix moved out of its initial slot. We reported on Saturday that the Monaco, Azerbaijan and Canadian Grands Prix were at risk too, while the back-end of the year is looking increasingly crowded.

Given the success of the calendar that was thrown together at short notice in 2020, I was surprised that the sport did not look to simply run it back with rounds at Mugello, Nurburgring, Portimao and Imola. Of course, there are financial considerations, but given that there remain no guarantees over when fans will return to the grandstands, it looks increasingly likely that a rethink is required.

F1 managed to pull it off last year and I am sure they can quickly put together a new calendar with European races until the summer break, but such a rapid pivot seems an unnecessary step seeing how they should have seen this scenario coming. It is impossible to make plans in the middle of a pandemic and F1 and the FIA are in an unenviable spot, but I think they were definitely too ambitious in this instance.

Elsewhere, the F1 world said goodbye to former Renault team boss Cyril Abiteboul this week after it was confirmed he would leave his role at the newly rebranded Alpine with immediate effect. The Frenchman sometimes came across as a spiky character within the paddock, who went to toe-to-toe quite publicly with Christian Horner over Daniel Ricciardo and sub-par power-units.

However, he also helped develop Renault into a pretty competitive midfield team that was able to finish on the podium three times last season. They may have finished fifth in the constructor’s standings but with 181 points, they amassed more than they had in a single season since they won the championship double in 2006.

Abiteboul’s departure comes amid widespread change at Alpine, with Laurent Rossi becoming the new CEO of the Alpine brand. He takes charge of the F1 operation and all motorsport operations, while Davide Brivio is expected to arrive from Suzuki in MotoGP.

What effect this will have remains to be seen and I think what happens next will play a large role in determining how Abiteboul’s F1 legacy is written.