The outlines of a 2020 MotoGP calendar are starting to take shape. Today, Dorna announced that the races at Phillip Island and Silverstone have been canceled. MotoGP will not visit either the UK or Australia in 2020.
The news does not come as a surprise. The strategy to combat the COVID-19 pandemic chosen by the Australian government foresees opening the country to international travel only in December of 2020, making planning a race there almost impossible. Australia, thanks in part to its remote location, has been extremely successful in containing the pandemic, with only 103 recorded deaths. The fact that a member of the McLaren team tested positive for the coronavirus during the Australian F1 Grand Prix in March made it less likely for restrictions to be eased for international sport.
Delaying the Phillip Island race would have been a possibility, but at the start of the year, before the pandemic upended the calendar, Dorna were looking at a major reshuffle of the calendar, with 2021 due to kick off at Phillip Island in late February or early March. Whether that idea played a role in canceling the race is unknown, but if MotoGP was planning to race at Phillip Island in early March, it made little sense trying to force a race through in November or December.
A MotoGP race in Silverstone would have had to take place behind closed doors, and without fans. Silverstone invested very heavily in 2019, having the track resurfaced for the second year in a row after the 2018 resurfacing had caused massive problems with drainage, and caused the race to be canceled due to weather conditions. The circuit is currently focused on hosting two F1 races at the end of July and early August, races which are also likely to be held behind closed doors, and with finances tight, a third race without fans would be tough to bear.
Dropping Silverstone also makes logistics easier. Silverstone was the last of the races in Northern Europe left, after Assen and the Sachsenring were scrapped, and the trip from Spain or Italy up to the UK would have been time-consuming. Border controls and checks put in place for cross-Channnel freight traffic to combat COVID-19 would have complicated logistics even further.
These will not be the last Grand Prix cancellations for 2020. The Japanese Grand Prix is unlikely to happen in 2020, and overseas races are far from certain. The plan as MotoMatters.com understands it is that overseas races will only happen if fans can be present. The Sepang and Buriram rounds are likely to go ahead under these conditions, and a race in the Americas could also happen. If it is not possible to race in front of fans, then these will also be canceled.
With Silverstone and Phillip Island dropped, MotoGP is heading to the point where it will be possible to draw up a new calendar. The prospects of the races planned for Jerez on July 19th and 26th going ahead were boosted recently when the Spanish Council for Sports, part of the Ministry of Culture and Sports, announced they were working to assist a return of motorcycle racing in Spain. Once Dorna gets approval from the Spanish Ministry of Health for its plans, the races can go ahead.
What will a 2020 calendar look like? It will be somewhere between 11 and 16 races, either all held in Europe, or, as explained above, with some races held overseas if fans can attend. Races will be held at the same circuit on back-to-back weekends, with little time off. The four circuits in Spain, Brno, Austria, and Misano will host races, while other circuits, such as Mugello and Portimao, are being held in reserve.
Whatever the final shape of a published calendar, it will remain provisional. Although the WHO are optimistic about a second wave of the COVID-19 outbreak being more easily contained than the first wave, any major return of the disease will see all sports and mass events canceled once again. There will almost certainly be MotoGP races in 2020. But we won't know how many will be held until the season is over.
Below are the press release from Dorna, and a message from Silverstone CEO Stuart Pringle to ticket holders:
British and Australian Grands Prix cancelled
Friday, 29 May 2020
The FIM, IRTA and Dorna Sports regret to announce the cancellation of the British and Australian Grands Prix. The ongoing coronavirus outbreak and resulting calendar changes have obliged the cancellation of both events.
The British Grand Prix was set to take place from the 28th to the 30th of August at the classic Silverstone Circuit. Silverstone hosted the first Grands Prix held on the British mainland from 1977, and MotoGP™ returned to the illustrious track ten years ago. 2020 will now sadly mark the first year MotoGP™ sees no track action in the British Isles for the first time in the Championship’s more than 70-year history.
The Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix was set to take place at the legendary Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit from the 23rd to the 25th of October. Phillip Island hosted the very first Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix in 1989 and since 1997 has been the only home of MotoGP™ Down Under - with its unique layout providing some of the greatest battles ever witnessed on two wheels.
The cancellation of the British Grand Prix also obliges the cancellation of the corresponding British Talent Cup track activity at the same event.
Stuart Pringle, Silverstone Managing Director: “We are extremely disappointed about the cancellation of the British MotoGP event, not least as the cancelled race in 2018 is still such a recent memory, but we support the decision that has had to be taken at this exceptional time.
“I want to thank the stoic British fans for their patience and support. We must now look forward to 2021 when Silverstone will once again host the fastest and most historic MotoGP race on the calendar and work hard to make it a truly exceptional event for all to enjoy.”
Paul Little AO, Australian Grand Prix Corporation Chairman: “We’re very disappointed that MotoGP fans throughout Victoria, Australia and internationally won’t get the chance to make the pilgrimage to see the world’s best riders compete on one of the best circuits anywhere in the world, but the right decision has been made.
“The Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix puts Phillip Island on the global stage and it’ll be back better than ever in 2021.”
Carmelo Ezpeleta, CEO of Dorna Sports: “We’re saddened to have to announce the cancellation of these iconic events after finding no way through the logistical and operational issues resulting from the pandemic and rearranged calendar. Silverstone and Phillip Island are always two of the most thrilling race weekends of the season, with both tracks never failing in their promise to deliver some of the closest racing in our Championship.
“On behalf of Dorna, I would like to once again extend my thanks to the fans for their understanding and patience as we wait for the situation to improve. We look forward to returning to Silverstone and Phillip Island next year for more incredible battles."
A message to British MotoGP™ 2020 ticket holders from Silverstone MD Stuart Pringle
May 29, 2020
As promised, I am writing to let you know the latest regarding the 2020 British Grand Prix MotoGP™ at Silverstone.
It is with the deepest of regret we are letting you know the 2020 round of the MotoGP™ world championship, due to be held at Silverstone on August 28 - 30, will not be going ahead.
Despite months of work behind-the-scenes to try and make this key event happen, logistical restrictions under the current situation, combined with a shortened and rearranged MotoGP™ calendar, has caused the cancellation of the event.
Our obligations to protect the health and safety of everyone involved in preparing and delivering the event, our volunteer marshals and Race Makers, and of course, the amazing fans, means this is the best, safest and only decision to be made.
The global Coronavirus pandemic has been an enormous challenge for the UK and Silverstone and I wish to thank all of you for your patience during this time.
Nothing matters more to Silverstone and our owners, the British Racing Drivers’ Club, than taking care of our motorsport fans. I would like to reassure customers who have purchased a ticket that they will be given the option of either transferring their booking directly to 2021, or taking a full refund. All customers will be contacted in the next few weeks with full details, so we do ask them to please be patient with us as we work through all our bookings.
A thank you for key workers
I can also confirm that next year, we intend to give away thousands of tickets for the 2021 event to NHS and other key workers who have literally been putting their lives on the line for us all, during these challenging times. No one can be in any doubt of the huge debt of gratitude we owe to them.
Thank you for your patience, loyalty and support.
Managing Director, Silverstone