The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted motorsports events around the world last year, including the Formula 1 World Championship. After the opening round in Australia was cancelled literally at the ‘eleventh hour’, other venues also decided that the situation was worsening and they could not be sure their event could be safely held, or that the authorities would not close off the borders (as what happened in Malaysia and many other countries).
It was only in the middle of the year that the calendar could be revised to have 17 rounds, with 4 races taking place in the months of November and December. The compressed schedule was gruelling for the teams but at least they did not have to do the 22 races that had been planned at the beginning of the 2020 season.
2021 calendar revised a few times
The 2021 calendar has likewise been revised a few times as some countries had changed quarantine conditions making it difficult for teams to travel to them, especially from Europe. The season-opening Australian Grand Prix was one of them and was initially postponed to November and then cancelled. Bahrain got to run the first race of the season.
The rounds in China, Singapore and Japan were also cancelled and in their search for new circuits, the organisers decided to bring back Portugal and Turkey, which have had F1 events before. The championship will also see another new circuit which replaces the cancelled Australian round. This is the Losail International Circuit in Qatar which will run Round 20 on November 21. With the Ooredoo Qatar Grand Prix, as the event will be known, the original number of 22 races can be fulfilled.
MotoGP circuit since 2004
The 7-year old FIA-certified Losail International Circuit is not new to the motorsports world and has been a MotoGP venue since 2004. It will now add Formula 1 to its list, which will be held at the 5.4-km long track until 2032 (except for 2022 as it coincides with Qatar’s hosting of the 2022 FIFA World Cup).
It is not known yet whether the race will be run at night, although the Middle East races are usually at night when it is cooler. The circuit is capable of having a night race as it has the required illumination provided by some 3,600 lights. The race is expected to be 57 laps.
“We have shown that we can continue to adapt and there is huge interest in our sport and the hope from many locations to have a Grand Prix. The huge effort from all the teams, F1 and the FIA has made it possible to deliver a 22-race calendar something that is very impressive during a challenging year and something we can all be proud of,” said Stefano Domenicali, President & CEO of Formula 1.
Human rights controversy
The choice of Qatar is not without controversy as some groups point out that the Middle Eastern country has a poor record with regard to human rights. The Formula 1 organisation has not refuted this but says: “We take our responsibilities very seriously and have made our position on rights clear to all our partners and host countries who commit to respect our responsibilities in the way their events are hosted and delivered.”
“Sports like Formula 1 are uniquely positioned to cross borders and cultures to bring countries and communities together to share the passion and excitement of incredible competition and achievement. For decades, Formula 1 has worked hard be a positive force everywhere it races, including economic, social, and cultural benefits,” its statement added.