Max Verstappen was cruising toward an easy second straight victory until an unexpected tyre failure turned the Azerbaijan Grand Prix into a two-lap shootout and a shock victory for Sergio Perez.
Ahead of the 2021 Formula One season, there was great anticipation surrounding what was supposed to be a record-breaking 23-race schedule – as it was a sign that the sport was returning to normality in this pandemic affected world.
Even on this column it was listed as something to look forward to this year, with a tantalising championship battle underway between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen – as well as seeing popular races like Monaco and the Dutch Grand Prix return.
Though that was stated knowing full well, that the schedule that was presented back in early March following the initial postponement of the traditional season opening Australian Grand Prix to November, would indeed not be the final version.
So far there have been the additions of the Portuguese and Emilia Romagna Grands Prix early in the season, to replace the Chinese Grand Prix which still cannot go ahead due to travel restrictions and the impact of Covid-19.
The Canadian Grand Prix which was due to be hosted this coming weekend, also found itself axed for 2021 due to the nation’s strict stance on quarantining international travellers. It is replacement in a return to Istanbul Park in Turkey also was off – given the travel restrictions imposed by the British government into that nation.
Lately, Singapore which also sees its current four-year contract with the Formula One Group expire, has been called off with ‘safety and logistic concerns’ due to Covid-19 having been cited by the event’s organisers.
What was intriguing in that statement from Formula One was that they do believe to have ‘several options for additional races’, in the pipeline to negate the loss of the Marina Bay street race in October.
Though with already a return to hosting double headers at the same circuit, with back-to-back events coming up in Austria and talk of doing the same in Austin – should Formula One just cut its losses and seek to secure these cancelled races for the following season?
Given that 17 races, which were miraculously staged in 2020 when the pandemic first began, still seems like a sizeable calendar – the economic impact of that would still be hurting Formula One and its stakeholders. Less races to broadcast which means less money for advertisers, a lack of paying punters trackside and so on, are all drawbacks that hurt the sport financially.
The ambitious target of staging 23 events can be understood in that respect and as well as benefitting the local economies of where Formula One travels to throughout the year. Which if discussing the Australian Grand Prix and the Melbourne economy, well it could really use an injection with a major event such as this.
Though even that seems unlikely given the Australian federal governments strict stance on quarantine for international travellers, similar to that of Canada which Formula One wasn’t going to play ball with. Logistically at this stage and after a fourth lockdown in Melbourne, it seems waiting till March 2022 seems more realistic.
The human impact as well of such a vast calendar in the current landscape, as highlighted in the past is the fatigue and strain that the ongoing travel has on the teams. With the introduction of the US$145 million cost cap this year also, it is not as if outfits can put on extra staff for rotation. In this instance some respite should be offered.
If at the end of the day, Formula One falls one or two events short of its desired 23 event total this year, it should be seen as no big loss given the circumstances. It would be considered a disaster again, if more than a third of the calendar was wiped out like in 2020.
Paying fans will feel rewarded by having a second race in Austin come November for example, permitted that they are allowed trackside in force – as seen with the roaring crowd at the Indy 500 in May. Which in itself feels satisfying given the passion for racing Stateside and Formula One’s own want to grow more in that region.
For the likes of Brazil, Australia, Singapore and Canada, one can only hope that their presence on the 2022 calendar will be felt in the same way as the proposed Texas double header. But this again is a reminder of the ongoing impact of the pandemic on the world and the need to take what is on the table – even for a cutthroat business such as Formula One.