Formula One is ready to make a much-awaited return in 2020 with the first race of the season set to get underway at the Red Bull Ring in Austria on July 5. The Coronovirus pandemic has had such a deep impact on the sport that the world body is only committing to the first eight races of the season – two of the them will be part of back-to-back races in Austria and then Silverstone circuit in Great Britain.
“This is an unprecedented situation and a scenario that no one could have imagined or prepared for. This probably the first event which has affected every single nation in the world since the World War II. We are into unchartered territory and F1 is no different,” former F1 driver from India Karun Chandhok told indiansportsnews.com from London on Thursday (June 4).
The first 10 races of the 2020-21 season have already been called off due to global lockdown caused by the pandemic. As a result eight European races have been planned so far, the last of which is planned for September 6 in Monza, Italy.
“Apart from these eight races, I see three to four rounds taking place in middle-east in Bahrain and possibly a couple of rounds in Abu Dhabi. Apart from that, I don’t see the Brazil and Russian Grand Prix going ahead with the coronavirus curve on the rise in both these countries as well as Mexico,” the 36-year-old former driver said.
With Brazil and Mexico unlikely to host a race this season, it remains to be seen whether the F1 juggernaut will consider making the long trip across the Atlantic to United States even if all the permissions and logistics are in place to hold the US Grand Prix in Texas.
The truncated season means most the sponsor and TV contracts are being renegotiated for this year apart from the fact that all the European rounds are certain to take place within closed doors without any spectators.
“A large chunk of F1’s earning – close to 30 to 35 per cent -- came from the promoter’s fee. So that will be a massive loss for Liberty. Apart from that the TV and major sponsorship deals will need to be reworked considering the fact that this will be a much-curtailed season,” Chandhok felt.
“The financial hit will be felt by Liberty as well as all the teams and sponsors for the next couple of years at least. The rule changes have already been pushed back to 2022, who the big relief is that teams will be able to use the 2020 car in 2021 as well. Also the budget cap has come in place. At least seven of the F1 teams were based out of England, inclusing Mercedes, Red Bull and Racing Point and they used the British government’s furlough scheme.
“All these teams furloughed majority of their staff which reduced majority of their burden. The same was the case with tyre manufacturer Pirelli, who furloughed most of their engineering staff based in UK,” the Chennai-born driver added.
In a tough climate like this, Chandhok expects the bottom five teams to struggle this season.
“It is a tough financial situation for all the teams but it will be especially tougher for the smaller teams in the bottom of the pecking order. It is one thing to show up and compete and quite another to be competitive. The top few teams, who have some cash to spare, will already start researching for the 2021 car and help them get their nose in front,” Chandhok said.
Asked if he was concerned about the gap between teams widening leading to loss of TV interest in the sport, Chandhok said, “This fall in TV viewership is not a global concept. While interest has certainly dipped in India, TV viewership increased by almost 30 per cent in the United States, although there is no American driver on the grid. The UK viewership also increased by close to 18 per cent last season.
“When you add the fact that people all across the world have been starved of live sports for the last 3-4 months, I think F1 has nothing to worry about on the interest front,” he added.
Opening F1 calendar:
July 3-5: Austrian Grand Prix, Red Bull Ring, Austria
July 10-12: Steiermark Grand Prix, Red Bull Ring, Austria
July 17-19: Hungarian Grand Prix, Hungaroring, Hungary
July 31-Aug. 2: British Grand Prix, Silverstone, Great Britain
Aug. 7-9: Formula One 70th Anniversary Grand Prix, Silverstone, Great Britain
Aug. 14-16: Spanish Grand Prix, Circuit de Catalunya, Spain
Aug. 28-30: Belgian Grand Prix, Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium
Sept. 4-6: Italian Grand Prix, Monza, Italy