Race Weekend Central

Slipstream Saturday: F1 & Its Scheduling Quagmire

The 2021 F1 schedule is now in a bit of flux after the cancellation of the Australian Grand Prix. Yet that comes after almost half the season has passed by in what looks like logistics ease.

The Chinese and Canadian events may have been canceled and the Emilia Romagna race retained after a one-year one-off, but the races have been slotted and passed by with regularity – even if Australia did not get to say G’day to open the schedule.

Now, after a string of three consecutive race weekends, Formula 1 enjoys a break. Three straight races used to be a crazy idea, but in 2019, the schedule featured them with a switch toward including more races in the season.

While teams acted resistant in the initial going, the results indicated that smart as they are, teams adjusted, and no serious issue arose. The practice in 2019 helped get through the truncated and ever-changing 2020 season.

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Coming off the French Grand Prix and then two races at the Red Bull Ring in Austria is almost easy compared to what the teams have faced recently. Hence, the off weekend, followed by the British GP, with another off weekend marking the schedule afterward, almost feels like a slow pace for the sport.

To boot, after that particular off weekend, the teams hit the track for the Hungarian GP – and then enjoy the summer break. Yet, the schedule does not maintain such a form going forward.

In fact, the cancellation of the Australian GP seems like it might be a benefit for everyone in the sport. However, the cancellation is yet another reminder of how much COVID is with us and how it may not be done tinkering with the sport.

While some countries are in the process of lessening restrictions and resuming practices that might be considered normal, this practice is not universal. In fact, it is anything but universal.

The coronavirus is still wandering around the planet and, with its mutation to the Delta variant, becoming more robust.  While vaccines have been shown to be effective in mitigating the effects of Delta, there is still the logistics of inoculating the seven billion people on the planet.  Or even 70% of them.

Even as Korean worldwide pop sensation BTS released “Permission to Dance,” an ode to the end of COVID restrictions, the virus still manifests its power.

Australia is in the midst of a two-week lockdown that is much like the stranglehold that many places of the planet felt a year ago. Japan, hosting the Olympics beginning July 23, has not only been fighting a wave of COVID cases but is now restricting attendance to many of the events. Much like Australia, Japan has entered a state of emergency, and there is a question of whether the GP will happen, and that’s not until October.

That returns us to the schedule. Once F1 arises from its summer slumber, it hits the track at full throttle. Awkwardly worded, the series hosts three three-consecutive race groupings before finishing with a back-to-back finale.

The sport is filled with professionals able to do their jobs, but the second half of the schedule is littered with more robust travel and compact groupings.

The first four races may all be in Europe, but that does not mean that the bounce from Belgium to the Netherlands to Italy is simple or not draining. While other race series, like NASCAR, may cover similar grounds, this situation is one in flux, and the track in the Netherlands is new to schedule, having been canceled last year.

But the next trifecta, featuring the Russian, Turkish, and Japanese races, is a mix of travel and challenges that are rather involved. Who knows what restrictions may be in place at that point and what the teams may have to go through.

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Japan has been uneasy about holding the Olympics for months now. Even if F1 is a major sporting enterprise, it pales in comparison to the impact of the Olympic games, and to realize that the country is barring spectators from attending events is a serious blow to the reason that a country brings the games anyway. Dropping F1 is a small pittance in comparison.

Will Japan allow the Japanese GP to race but without spectators? Even though it is a few months away, there is a chance that this may be the likely outcome, even if the country might prefer the touring series skipped its stop this year.

The cancellation of the Australian GP has opened the possibility for a doubleheader scenario at the Circuit of the Americas, which would be a boon for a track that is in questionable financial status. Should Japan decide to cancel, the likelihood of such a scheduling situation becomes greater – and something that may benefit the teams by reducing travel though they are less tied to the factories that feed its parts.

Much of this word salad is to say that the schedule has been wonderful so far but that it is still something of an improvisation. There are changes likely to occur in the near future, but what they may be are questionable, and there are reasons to believe that Liberty Media will do its best to ensure that series hits 22, if not the full 23, slated races for the season.

Driver silly season may be in full swing but sorting out the current schedule is more fascinating and immediate.

About the author

As a writer and editor, Ava anchors the Formula 1 coverage for the site, while working through many of its biggest columns. Ava earned a Masters in Sports Studies at UGA and a PhD in American Studies from UH-Mānoa. Her dissertation Chased Women, NASCAR Dads, and Southern Inhospitality: How NASCAR Exports The South is in the process of becoming a book.

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