Author: Senan NADIROGHLU
The number of sport events postponed or cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic is growing every week. One of them is the Formula 1 Azerbaijan Grand Prix. On June 12, after long expectations, the Formula 1 website and the Baku City Circuit officially announced that the Grand Prix of the World Championship will not be held in Azerbaijan in 2020.
According to the operating company, the decision to cancel the fifth Formula 1 racing weekend in Baku was made after long discussions with the Azerbaijani government, as well as with the leadership of Formula 1 and the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA). The decision was made due to the continued global spread of COVID-19 and is based on expert advice provided by relevant government agencies.
The company statement reads: “Baku City Circuit (BCC) has regretfully taken the decision to cancel the Formula 1 Azerbaijan Grand Prix 2020 [because our] primary concern throughout has been the health and well-being of the Azerbaijani people as well as all visiting F1 fans, staff and championship participants.
“The ongoing uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic means that the construction of our street circuit cannot be guaranteed to be carried out safely and on time. In addition, the various containment measures still being implemented by governments across the world - and the impact these are having on cross-border travel - further reduce the chances of realistically staging a race weekend in Baku later this year. This has, therefore, left us with no choice but to cancel the Formula 1 Azerbaijan Grand Prix 2020.”
According to the message, any tickets purchased will be automatically valid for the Formula 1 Azerbaijani Grand Prix 2021. Fans who had already purchased tickets for this year’s race can contact BCC to secure a refund.
Because of the current situation, neither Baku City Circuit nor Azerbaijan as the receiving party will suffer any losses due to the cancellation of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. The fee for holding the tournament will be carried forward to next year.
According to F1News, the continuation of the lockdown in Azerbaijan made it impossible to hold the competition in duly and timely manner. All employees associated with the competition have been informed. And the public relations manager of the Baku City Ring, Gulnaz Guliyeva, said that in order to organise the competition, it was necessary to wait until the lockdown was over, but this never happened: “Borders must be opened, flights must be resumed. Quarantine is not just about wearing a medical mask. First of all, the opening of borders is necessary.”
Pessimistic forecasts have also been confirmed by the fact that BCC does not conduct any preparatory works to hold the race in Baku.
We consider various options
Given that any sport tournaments may take place without the participation of fans, organisers expect large financial losses. That is why the president of the Italian Automobile Club, Angelo Sticchi, proposed to hold the Formula 1 race in Italy. Liberty Media, the current owner of Formula 1 commercial rights, is considering hosting the second Grand Prix in 2020. The company stated that despite its intention to hold the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in September 2020, there are still no guarantees. Indeed, certain time is needed to build infrastructure in Baku. On the other hand, the Azerbaijani side is not interested in holding races with the participation of fans.
If this plan works out, the first Italian Grand Prix will be held on September 6, and the second - on September 13. The second competition can take place in Mugello, Imola or Monza. However, it is still unknown whether fans will be present at the Italian Grand Prix.
The calendars of the first eight Formula 1 World Cup Grand Prix have already been announced. The first two Grand Prix will be held in Austria (July 3-5 and July 10-12). Then the Grand Prix of Hungary (July 17-19), Great Britain (July 31 - August 2, August 7-9), Spain (August 14-16), Belgium (August 28-30) and Italy (September 4-6) will take place. All competitions will be held without fans. Azerbaijan’s Grand Prix is not on the calendar. Therefore, it is difficult to predict the future of the competition.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the organisers have developed special medical rules. The competition will be cancelled if at least one Formula 1 pilot or representative of any team become coronavirus-positive. According to the executive director of Formula 1 Chase Carey, athletes and other individuals will periodically undergo a coronavirus test. According to Carey, who noted that the teams are required to prepare for the quarantine procedure, it is also possible to isolate patients, if any. “The array of ‘what ifs’ are too wide to play out every one of them, but a team not being able to race wouldn’t cancel the race. I don’t think I could sit here and lay out the consequences. But we will have a procedure in place that finding infection will not lead to a cancellation. If a driver has an infection, [teams have] reserve drivers available. We wouldn’t be going forward if we were not highly confident we have necessary procedures and expertise and capabilities to provide a safe environment and manage whatever issues arrive," Carey said.
Note that because of the coronavirus pandemic, the 2020 Formula 1 season has not yet started. Earlier, the leadership also postponed the holding of the tournament in Bahrain, Vietnam, China, Spain and Canada. Stages in Australia, Monaco, the Netherlands and France are also cancelled. According to the calendar approved last year, races in Baku were to take place on June 5-7.
Along with Azerbaijan, the stages of races in Singapore and Japan were also cancelled. However, the Grand Prix tournaments in Russia, Vietnam, the US, Mexico, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates will be held. Due to the pandemic, the management intends to organise at least 15 competitions this season.
The best competition is in Azerbaijan
Azerbaijan has held Formula 1 competitions since 2017. According to the results of most surveys conducted by a number of international media publications based on the results of the season, the Formula 1 Azerbaijan Grand Prix held in 2017 was awarded the title of the best competition of the year. The collision that occurred between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel during the race was one of the most memorable events in the history of motorsport.
In addition, according to the statistical report of the Pirelli company supplying tires for Formula 1 world championships, the Azerbaijan Grand Prix came out on top in terms of overtakings. In this spectacular race of the 2017 season in Baku, spectators saw a total of 42 overtakings. During one of them on the first corner D. Riccardo immediately overtook three cars. Fans of Formula 1 recognised the incident as the most spectacular overtaking among the ten best. Red Bull pilot called it a “cool one” as well.
It is good to know that the cancellation of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix will not affect the holding of scheduled competitions of one of the most spectacular sport events in 2020.