Paul Ricard, 2019

Why F1 could return to Paul Ricard sooner than expected

2020 F1 calendar

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Confirmation that the promoters of the Hungarian Grand Prix are looking to run a ‘ghost’ grand prix – staged behind locked gates – or even two, means that the first building blocks for F1’s post-Covid19 renaissance are gradually slotting into place. With Red Bull Ring and Silverstone gearing up to run two races each during July (subject to approval), F1 commercial rights holder Liberty Media could stage six races by mid-August.

What other European rounds may go ahead? Although the Belgian government’s restriction on mass events expires at the end of August, and Spa’s race is scheduled for the 30th, there is talk of an partial exemption for the seven-kilometre circuit at which social distancing should represent less of an problem than at others. Monza is also clamouring for a race or two, so the European portion of the F1 calendar could soon be up to 10 rounds spread over five venues.

Even if one or two drop out or decide to stage just a single event each, it appears Liberty has no shortage of offers, what with Catalunya offering its venue and Zandvoort prepared to host a race, albeit only with ‘fan approval’ promoter Jan Lammers reportedly said. That seems a somewhat strange stance, and thus one wonders whether local (or even national) politics are at play.

Could a space also be found for Hockenheim, even though it wasn’t part of the original 2020 F1 calendar? It has long stated its willingness to host grands prix subject to the town-owned circuit not being financially exposed. With Liberty prepared to reimburse promoter costs on a full or partial basis – as per a blueprint originally proposed here – such worries fall away.

Luca Badoer, Ferrari, Autodromo do Algarve, 2008
Pictures: When F1 put one foot in the Algarve
A case could be made for the inclusion of the German venue, for there is talk it could feature on 2021’s calendar, in keeping with its long-standing ‘alternate years’ model. The same does not apply to Italy’s Imola circuit and Autodromo do Algarve in Portimao, both of whom threw hats into the ring the moment they smelt paydays. At this rate Buddh Circuit in India and Korea’s unloved Mokpo track will be sticking hands in the air…

RaceFans understands that, while Liberty is flattered by interest from such opportunistic circuits, its preferred strategy is to stick with existing venues rather than looking outside the ‘F1 family’. Which begs the question: What about Paul Ricard, which continues to be linked with a round this year despite the French Grand Prix having been definitively cancelled?

The precisely-worded press release confirming the cancellation of the June race, in which F1 CEO/chairman Chase Carey stated “we look forward to being back at Paul Ricard soon”, gave rise to optimism that a race could be run at the Mediterranean circuit in 2020 under a different title. The venue is, after all, owned by Excelis, an Ecclestone family trust off-shoot, so anything is thought possible.

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However, according to a source in the loop, even if the French government relaxes distancing restrictions enough for an event to be held ‘behind closed doors’, a grand prix at Paul Ricard this year remains “highly unlikely”. Not least because the promoters, who rent the venue from Excelis, have a cancellation insurance claim in the offing. This was lodged as soon it became clear the original date of June 28th race date could not be adhered to.

France’s Dijon circuit held the Swiss Grand Prix in 1982
On paper, this does not preclude Paul Ricard from offering its facilities to Liberty to stage a grand prix under another title – e.g. ‘Mediterranean’, ‘European’ or ‘Swiss’ – the latter having previously been used to hold an extra race on French asphalt in 1982. But the reality is somewhat different.

F1 events staged on French soil require the sanction of the local motorsport body FFSA, which will be reluctant to accept a non-French Grand Prix after its own race was canned. The French Grand Prix’s deal with Excelis grants it sole rights to a F1 race at Ricard. Thus, while a race at the track this year called something other than the ‘French Grand Prix’ is not impossible, there are a number of contractual hoops to leap through in a short time frame.

But even without a race in France Liberty seems to have a number of options for its European leg. And, should it fail to secure sufficient venues for an eight-race leg as planned, it could copy Moto GP, which is considering a series of events at a single venue should the need arise.

Thereafter Liberty’s imperative is to ensure that F1 contests races on at least three continents in order to retain its world championship status, with a minimum of 15 rounds globally to satisfy its major television contracts.

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Author information

Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...

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31 comments on “Why F1 could return to Paul Ricard sooner than expected”

  1. If Liberty manages to stage 10 GPs in Europe by the end of September, with 5 tracks (Austria, Britain, Hungary, ?, ?) hosting 2 races each, then the season will be ‘saved’.
    Even in the absolute worst case scenario that none of the flyway races in October-November is unable to host a race, we could just have 2-3 races in Bahrain (we could even use one of the other layouts here) and 2 in Abu Dhabi and still meet the 15-race limit that is required for the TV revenue.

    1. To satisfy the requirements of a world championship F1 must race on at least 3 continents though @black. So If Europe is done, they need Asia, and they need one of the Americas.

      Interlagos is rather unlikely to be able to go ahead, I guess (although by then?) but I am sure that CotA will work VERY hard to get that race staged. Then with Abu Dhabi, Bahrain and probably China or Japan also in the mix, that would work.

      1. @bascb From what I’ve read over the past weeks on what requirements need to be satisfied in order to stage a championship, I have never read that racing in at least 3 continents mandatory. Sure it’s nice to race on all continents not just 3, but aside from having a 8-race minimum for a valid championship and a 15-race minimun for the TV revenue, I don’t think it’s an issue.

        Still if we have to race in the Americas, Austin and Mexico City seem to be the best choices at the time. Brazil seems unlikely, Canada is definatly off due to the weather. In Asia China and Japan as you say look like they can hold their races. But as long as Liberty pulls of those 5-double ‘core’ GPs in Europe – and with the Middle East looking safe to stage single or double races at the end – anything more is bonus.

        1. @black @bascb The minimum for the world championship is 8 races on 3 continents (as distinct from non-world international ones, that just need 8 races anywhere).

          I suspect Mexico will have a good chance of staging its race, though its proximity to the USA leaves me concerned. Of course, the last-ditch method of saving it would be to make the Australian Grand Prix the last race of the 2020-2021 season, immediately followed by the 2021 season proper…

          1. I would be reluctant to hold a race in the middle of a huge city @alianora-la-canta, since Covid-19 is still on the rise in Mexico, how safe will the city feel staging the race? Especially since the government is no longer a supporter of the event (“just” Mexico City now), it might not be easy to get that one through.

            That is why I mentioned CotA – since it is out of town, I guess they could find a way to keep the crews away from the population.

          2. @bascb We are in May. Mexico is due to happen in October. From the curve point Mexico is on, there’s a good chance that they will have got things under control by the time F1 is due to arrive there – if the USA doesn’t have a surge at the wrong point (likely due to rolling lockdowns and easements). If there’s a rising curve, you’re right to think that the F1 race won’t get special favours in Mexico’s national government.

            Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that an area of the USA that currently has a low rate will retain it, because any given area is effectively reliant on other areas’ management of COVID-19, and in some areas this has been… …sub-optimal. (California particuarly worries me as it borders both Texas and Mexico – if the wrong part of that state has a surge at the wrong moment, it could stop both races in their tracks).

            COTA will work as hard as it can to get the race staged, but the venue is currently shut (one of the few places in that part of Texas that is) and I doubt it will open before it is 100% confident that COVID-19 will not become a major factor in its part of Texas. Unfortunately, nobody can assume this right now, even though current signs are good.

          3. All valid points @alianora-la-canta.

            Yes, I expect that we will see numbers on the rise for some time in Mexico. And I share your worries about a surge in the southern USA.

  2. So the article does not answer the question of the title at all. In fact the opposite.

    In general, what’s with these large pieces of text which basically offer nothing but some uninteresting rumors which are then also discredited in the same article.

    1. @f1osaurus I really don’t understand your objection at all. While the article does look at more than just Paul Ricard, the possibility it might hold a race this year referred to in the headline is covered at length.

      1. @keithcollantine The headline suggests a race at Paul Ricard. The article goes off on all kind of tangents, but pretty much solely puts credibility in the rumors that no race will be held there. While never taking any definitive stance on anything since it’s all just rumors anyway.

        But yeah, the biggest gripe I have is that there are lately a lot of these incoherent wall of text like collections of unsubstantiated rumors with usually a click bait headline.

    2. +1 I’ve ignored a lot of people moaning about “clickbait” in the past, but this one is pathetic. The headline is pure fake news. F1 fans are desperate for a race so obviously the headline is created to just attract clicks. Honestly I’m so disappointed with this. Are you getting that desperate? The donation banner has become the brightest shade of yellow I’ve ever seen and resorting to pathetic clickbait.

  3. Does anyone think it will be safe to race in the US this yr?

    1. Nascar & Indycar do

    2. @johnrkh By October (the time when F1 is due to show up) it might be, subject to the danger of a second wave.

  4. Shall we have “X” number of races this year inc France, or “X” number of races -1 and no France.

    “X” -1 please. Even in this mad, mad year, I’m happy to have to see france delayed…..indefinitely if possible.

    1. @invisiblekid The whole point is that F1 can’t afford to drop any races this year, becuase it’s already had to drop so many.

  5. How would social distancing be ‘less’ of a problem at Spa-Francorchamps than elsewhere, though? What does lap-length have to do with it? Yes, there isn’t a major-sized city in the extreme proximity, but the same also applies to many other current F1-circuits, both European and non-European ones. I’m also not fully convinced any event the size of an F1 GP could take place on Italian soil this year even without spectators, although the same also applies to China.

    1. @jerejj It’s less of a problem at Spa because there’s more space for the spectators to spread out than at other tracks. (Mass events are currently scheduled to be permitted from the day after the race, and if the permission was rolled back three days, then Belgium could not only run, but have a full complement of fans in attendance). Of course, the core problem of keeping the paddock properly isolated from each other (which is what appears to have tripped them up in Australia) is exactly as difficult at every venue.

      1. I guess then the larger problem would the transit of those people to the track @alianora-la-canta. Especially Dutch fans have been travelling back and forth from the Maastricht region daily in recent years.

        I guess they would have to limit fans to those who are housed locally / in the camps (with measures taken to make sure they have enough sanitary options that aren’t too crowded) and travel to the track individually or on foot @jerejj

        1. @bascb The camps would be more difficult to socially distance than travel; I would have thought those would be the last accommodation options to open (at least at full capacity). Public transport is difficult, but some countries are restarting that before restarting their mass events. Also, once a car is moving, it does not introduce more risk going (say) 200 miles than 2, barring that of petrol pumps (which has been a major issue in some places). If a local limit is placed, then there would have to be some careful risk management going on. Especially since the Schengen border is open for permitted travel – so a nation cannot say it is barring foreigners from countries with a land border unless it can demonstrate a valid reason to prefer people from its own nation. (They can, however, block non-Schengen countries, which means that they could prohibit British and most non-EU visitors if that was the hold-up).

          1. @alianora-la-canta, they would certainly have to seriously limit the capacity of camps, over in the Netherlands they opened up camps, but only for those that can secure a private hygene unit for every tent/caravan/camper.

            The reason why people were motivated to come by train/bus was to make traffic manageble, as you know Spa is in a rather secluded region not that well suited to a few thousand cars moving in and out daily. Without public transport, it would almost certainly put a limit on capacity just from that.

            So far that schengen border is very far from open though. Much like is the case with many other borders between Schengen countries currently (you need to show a recent health test, show documentation to the reasons of travel and/or accept being in quarantene for 14 days after entering etc.).

            There is police on the Belgian side (since they fear the Dutch are taking less than perfect measures) sending everyone not on essential travel back. Visiting a race certainly doesn’t qualify if even people who cross the border for work reasons have trouble being allowed through, and even then the places where you are actually allowed to cross the border are limited currently.

            Sure enough that will soften up by the end of the summer. But it is doubtfull that any Belgian governments will allow thousands of people from all over Europe (not to mention from the whole world) in to visit Spa, get back to the Netherlands, Aachen etc and back for a long weekend.

          2. @bascb The Dutch approach makes sense, since I recall from the time I attended the British Grand Prix from a campsite that the toilet/shower unit had the most queuing/close contact of anywhere, and also there’d be difficulties in disinfecting it between users (a particular issue for the shower).

            I don’t think public transport would be an issue for Spa as such, because if the government isn’t confident enough to allow it, they also won’t be confident enough to allow the race to happen (with or without fans). Public transport is among the first things to get re-opened among those countries that closed them at all (not all of them did, at least not for all modes).

            Schengen is allowing anyone on permitted reasons. If there was a race that could be attended, and people from outside the nation it was in were prevented from attending while those within it were not, that would be the issue. Even a maximum-distance rule would fail because of proximity to the French and German borders – plenty of people are inventive enough to come up with a reason to be in France/Germany that was deemed valid (given we’re talking about 3 months and more of notice, and assuming second wave doesn’t interfere) and then find a part of the French/German border within the appropriate distance of Spa. (Obviously if Belgians couldn’t attend Spa either, such tactics would be moot!)

          3. Ha, good one about public transport! I guess you are right there. And it supports my expectation that a Belgian GP is quite unlikely to have a viewing public attending.

            As for Schengen. Yeah, that is what it should do. Reality is not working like that currently though. France is not allowing people to freely travel the borders either and Germany also requires testing and quarantine. It means there are checks at many border crossings currently, despite the what the Schengen rules say. And it is hard to tell how long that will last.

      2. @alianora-la-canta Who said there’d be spectators? It’d most likely be a spectator-less event like any other European-race potentially taking place this year. Furthermore, it’s September 1, the day from which mass events are currently scheduled to be permitted again.
        @bascb

        1. @jerejj I’m saying there could be. Depending on how COVID-19 goes, it might be able to. Remember, August is three months away. (Also, September 1 is a Monday, and I said three days because some people buy three-day tickets and then only attend on the Friday. This means that if permission is only granted for qualifying and the race, for example, some fans won’t go because they cannot use their tickets).

          The travel situation is a reasonable concern, and another reason why it might be a spectatorless event if it happens.

          1. @alianora-la-canta September 1 falls on a Tuesday this year. August has 31 days.

          2. @jerejj Thank you for correcting me :)

  6. Thanks, Dieter for another well written piece, to keep us up to date. With Keith, you do keep us in the picture.

    My question is (after watching the ridiculous Virtual F2 race just now), could F2 and F3 also get on track with these expected GPs?
    One last comment – it is clear from the overwhelming number of real drivers in the Indycar and V8 Supercars iRacing games, (no cricketers or “influencers”! ) which sim racing systems are worth competing in or watching.

    1. @Ash Price F2 and F3 already get a separate paddock from F1, so I reckon they should be OK… …unless they need to be left off the schedule for F1 to get under some particular definition of “mass event” in a specific country.

  7. Confirmation that the promoters of the Hungarian Grand Prix are looking to run a ‘ghost’ grand prix – staged behind locked gates …

    Is this for real? Currently Hungary has around 1982 Active Infections and a population of about 9.8M, so about 202 Active Infections per million people, this is 40 times worse than Australia was when F1 walked out on it because it was too dangerous to race there. Currently the number of Active Infections is growing every day.
    This Grand Prix shouldn’t even be considered!
    If Liberty Media don’t have the sense to select race tracks in countries with declining rates of Active Infections then the FIA should have the sense to say they won’t sanction races in countries where the rate of Active Infections is increasing. However, neither of these seem to be happening.

    1. IMO it is grandstanding by the track, trying to keep a lifeline up for the race @drycrust.

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