Tech Draft: Liberty, FIA must accept COVID-19 here to stay

covid-19 graphic

The 2020 FIA Formula 1 World Championship fixture was severely compromised due to the global impact of COVID-19, but as the delta variant of the disease continues to spread across the world the 2021 season is suffering as well.

Originally the 2021 season was scheduled to consist of 23 Grands Prix of which to date 5 have been confirmed as cancelled, once again due to COVID-19, and there is a high possibility that at least a further 3 are under the same threat.

Of the 13 races on the 2020 calendar that were cancelled, 5 of them have also been cancelled this year, 2 are of the three at risk, and of course the Vietnamese event was wiped from the calendar because the Hanoi People’s Committee Chairman Nguyễn Đức Chung had been arrested on corruption charges.

Moreover, not only will the Singapore Grand Prix not be held this year, but there is no longer a contract between the F1 and the city to hold any more as this year was the final year in the current contract, and the Singapore Government opposition and media outlets have cast doubt on a renegotiation, countering that the annual USD$130 million hosting fee that would be due to F1 for the right of holding the event no longer presents the city with the value proposition that it once did.

Whilst the uptake of the COVID vaccination is on the increase, particularly in first world countries, those inoculated are protected from the diseases more severe effects.

However, the vaccine has little impact on the disease’s transmission, and as it matures and potentially mutates further into the epsilon strain, or whatever it will be named, and reinfections become a statistical reality, not only is F1, but the world is stuck with COVID for the probable future.

As it is not only an industry, but indeed more broadly a form of the standalone economy on its own, then surely by acknowledging, understanding, and accepting that COVID will impact the F1 calendar possibly for several years, F1 would be better served by a proactive approach to future event scheduling as opposed to the current reactive method.

Possibly a proactive approach would be to plan a calendar with more events such as the Red Bull Ring events, where the circus travels to a circuit as a bubble, is contained within a precinct and holds consecutive events at that venue.

Rather than cancelling multiple events and needing to find alternatives, or not replacing them at all, venues holding multiple events can either increase the number of races they are to host or if another country’s situation changes, an event might be transferred if possible.

At the very least a model such as this will provide clarity for the broadcasters and the teams, who all need to be able to plan for Grands Prix months ahead of schedule.

Regardless of how effective this purely hypothetical model is, the important point is that F1; Liberty Media and the FIA, need to accept that COVID is not going away in a hurry and that for the sake of the industry, a more informed pro-active approach is needed, one focussed on what we do know, and one more complicated than just, “We are doing everything we can”.

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