One of the UK’s major summertime sporting events fell on Wednesday with Wimbledon’s first cancellation outside of wartime, increasing fears over the fate of Formula 1’s British Grand Prix.
It is with great regret that the AELTC has today decided that The Championships 2020 will be cancelled due to public health concerns linked to the coronavirus epidemic.
The 134th Championships will instead be staged from 28 June to 11 July 2021.https://t.co/c0QV2ymGAt
— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) April 1, 2020
This year’s British GP should celebrate 70 years of F1 world championship racing at Silverstone, which hosted the inaugural race in 1950, but the impact of the coronavirus pandemic is wide-reaching.
All major international sporting events have been affected by postponements and cancellations, including the Tokyo Olympics, football’s European Championships and The Masters.
F1’s opening eight races have suffered the same fate, while the new de-facto season opener in Canada in mid-June looks increasingly likely to be moved.
But the cancellation of arguably tennis’s most prestigious tournament, and uncertainty over The Open Championship, the oldest golf tournament in the world, add to the air of pessimism that Britain’s usual summer festival of sport will grind to a halt.
As The Race reported last month, a decision on the British GP will be made by the end of April. And Silverstone and F1 have reiterated that the decisions made by other major UK sporting events are not a clue to the British GP’s fate.
“Silverstone and Formula 1 remain in close dialogue regarding the ongoing situation and are assessing the feasibility of holding the British Grand Prix on July 17-19,” read a joint Silverstone/F1 statement given to The Race on Wednesday.
“We fully appreciate that other UK sporting events in July have taken decisions regarding their events, but it is important to highlight that their logistics and sporting arrangements differ from Silverstone’s and, therefore, our timeline gives us until the end of April to make a final decision.
“The safety of our fans, colleagues and the F1 community will be our priority and we will continue to engage with the appropriate authorities.”
British motorsport’s governing body Motorsport UK has already suspended all event permits to June 30, less than three weeks before the race, and the Goodwood Festival of Speed, which was scheduled for a week prior to the British GP, has been postponed.
F1 and Silverstone will therefore find it difficult to avoid the circumstances around the health crisis that has now prompted Wimbledon’s first cancellation since the Second World War.
The statement released on behalf of Wimbledon’s organisers referenced the health and safety of everyone who would be present at the event “as well as our broader responsibility to society’s efforts to tackle this global challenge to our way of life”.
It is correct that the logistics of a tennis tournament and an F1 race are not the same but the wider responsibilities are, and the rest of the Wimbledon statement would not read out of place if it had been released by Silverstone itself.
Wimbledon organisers cited the likely trajectory of the outbreak, the time required to prepare for the tournament either on its current date or later in the summer, and the wider impact the pandemic is having on society.
Mass gatherings are not appropriate right now, and the strain on medical and emergency services is increasing all the time.
Travel restrictions are still intense, and Wimbledon’s statement goes as far as referencing “the likelihood that the [UK] government’s measures will continue for many months”.
These are all factors that bode poorly for the prospects of a British GP in July. As Racing Point boss Otmar Szafnauer said to Sky earlier on Wednesday: “It’s really difficult to predict the future but maybe we’ll start racing in France, maybe in Silverstone – if we have an optimistic view perhaps June/July, but it could be into August.”
Wimbledon says it cannot be held later in the year, but part of the F1/Silverstone delay will surely be to assess whether or not it is possible for the British GP to just be postponed rather than cancelled.
F1 could race into 2021, holding grands prix in January, in order to facilitate as extensive a schedule as possible.
But if the British GP is postponed there will only be a short window to reschedule it as holding the event outside of the British summer would be undesirable, and Silverstone is due to host the British MotoGP round in August.
That is also under review, indicating the uncertainty with which event organisers must work at present.
Unfortunately, like other sporting events including those in racing, Wimbledon’s cancellation became increasingly inevitable.
The relevant pressures on vital health services, businesses and individuals across the country also apply to F1 and the British GP.
With no imminent end to the crisis is in sight, it will be hard to justify any F1 race in the coming months – even if it is one of the very best, as the British GP undoubtedly is.