The COVID-19 outbreak, or corono virus as it is more commonly known, has finally had an impact on MotoGP. Today, the FIM and Dorna announced that the MotoGP race at Qatar has been canceled, while the Moto2 and Moto3 races are due to go ahead. The cancellation is due to restrictions imposed by Qatar on travelers coming from Italy and Japan. With so many members of the paddock - riders, engineers, mechanics, journalists, and other team staff - from those two countries, it would have been almost impossible for MotoGP to race there.
At first sight, this seems an odd decision. Why would only the MotoGP race be canceled, instead of all three classes? The reason is simple: the Moto2 and Moto3 classes are already in Qatar for their final preseason test, which completed today. The issue with Qatar is not fear of contagion, but restrictions on travel from Italy and Japan. Almost the entire Moto2 and Moto3 grid, plus most team members, are already in Qatar, and nobody was planning to return to Europe between the test and the race. There are no insurmountable obstacles to holding the Moto2 and Moto3 races at the Losail International Circuit.
But this is likely to be just a foretaste of what is to come. If Qatar is canceled, then the next race, at Buriram in Thailand, could pose a problem. There are currently no travel restrictions in place entering Thailand, but this could change quickly. There is also the small matter of packing up the MotoGP bikes, which are all currently sitting ready to race in Qatar, and shipping them to Thailand. Several Japanese and Italian engineers stayed on between the test and the race, as there was some fear that travel restrictions could be imposed, but there could be teams with no one to pack their stuff up for them.
Dorna could choose to postpone Thailand until September - there are already reports that this is likely - which would mean the season starts for MotoGP at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, on April 5th.
Even this could be problematic: the US has just raised the travel warning level for Italy, advising against all but non-essential travel. It is not unthinkable that the US government decides to impose similar travel restrictions on visitors from Italy and Japan.
Underlying all of these assumptions is the basic problem that the extent of the epidemic is still unknown, nor how far it will spread. The fate of MotoGP, and indeed, all sporting and mass-entertainment events, will be dictated by the spread of the disease, and decisions by governments and international authorities on how to handle it. Until then, we wait.
The official announcement appears below, and below that, a press release from Suzuki:
MotoGP™ Class cancelled at the Grand Prix of Qatar
Due to Qatar travel restrictions brought into force affecting passengers from Italy (amongst other countries), the premier class will not race at Losail
Sunday, 01 March 2020
FIM, IRTA and Dorna regret to announce the cancellation of all MotoGP™ class sessions at the Grand Prix of Qatar, including the race.
The ongoing coronavirus outbreak has resulted in Qatar travel restrictions being brought into force that affect passengers from Italy, amongst other countries. As of today, all passengers arriving at Doha on direct flights from Italy, or having been in Italy in the past 2 weeks, will be taken straight to quarantine for a minimum of 14 days. Italy clearly plays a vital role in the Championship and in the MotoGP™ class - both on track and off - and therefore the decision has been taken to cancel premier class competition.
As the teams and riders of the Moto2™ and Moto3™ classes were already in Qatar for the three-day official test at Losail International Circuit earlier this week, the races of both categories will be possible. The lightweight and intermediate classes will therefore compete in their season opener from the 6th to 8th March. The same will apply to the Idemitsu Asia Talent Cup, which will have two races during the Qatar Grand Prix as originally planned. Stay tuned for a revised schedule.
QATAR GP CALLED OFF AMID CORONAVIRUS CRISIS
Team Suzuki Press Office – March 1.
The FIM, IRTA, and Dorna Sports have this evening announced that the 2020 Qatar Grand Prix will not be held for the MotoGP class due to growing concerns and strict travel restrictions enforced due to the Coronavirus Covid-19.
The Moto2 and Moto3 classes will race as the riders are already present in Qatar following testing at Losail International Circuit.
Team Suzuki Ecstar are naturally disappointed not to race but agree with the decision which was not taken lightly by the officials.
Davide Brivio - Team Manager:
“Obviously It’s a big shame to have to cancel this first race of the season, as we were all really ready to start, and so were the MotoGP fans. Some of our team staff stayed in Qatar following the test days, as we were aware of the seriousness of the outbreak. But at this time the most important thing is the safety of the people, and we have to respect the decision made by the local authorities and by the MotoGP officials. It’s a delicate and strange time for everyone around the world and we need to take things race-by-race at the moment and see what develops in the coming weeks. I’d like to wish good luck to those riding in Moto2 and Moto3 next weekend, and I hope we can be back on the track soon.”