Vietnam axed as 2021 calendar takes shape

The Vietnamese Grand Prix is off the F1 calendar, but the sport still hopes to return to normality with its 2021 schedule.

This article originally appeared in The Phuket News.

The Vietnamese Grand Prix is at risk of being axed without ever having been run after it was dropped from Formula One’s 2021 calendar this week.

The inaugural Hanoi street race was postponed to next year when its April 2020 date was called off due to the pandemic, but its F1 debut has been thrown into doubt by its last-minute omission from the calendar.

Its absence is reportedly due to political issues, with a key governmental backer of the race recently arrested on alleged corruption charges unrelated to the race, raising serious questions about whether the grand prix will ever go ahead.

A permanent axing would leave just three Asian rounds on the calendar and only Singapore in South-East Asia.

Vietnam’s vacated 23–25 April weekend has been left blank on the provisional 22-race calendar in the hope another event can be found to fill the gap.

Frontrunners include some of the races called up to complete this year’s rearranged schedule, including circuits in Portugal, Germany, Italy and Turkey, the last named the site of this weekend’s grand prix, Istanbul’s first since 2011.

The inclusion of any one of them would bring the calendar to a record-breaking 23 races.

Beefing up the numbers is a new street race in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, which will host the sport’s third Middle Eastern round for at least two years before a permanent circuit is built in Qiddiya, near capital Riyadh.

The announcement of the Saudi Arabian race has drawn criticism from human rights groups, with Amnesty International warning F1 it is being used to ‘sportswash’ the kingdom’s “abysmal human rights record”.

Formula One also drew fire earlier in the year for its announcement that it intends to move the Brazilian Grand Prix from São Paulo to a proposed new circuit in Rio de Janeiro, with environmental groups balking at the requirement to bulldoze as many as 180,000 trees to build the track.

The track remains mired in environmental approval processes, and the 2021 calendar again lists São Paulo as Brazil’s host city.

The 2021 season was also due to mark the debut of the Miami Grand Prix, which was to be held in the car park of Hard Rock Stadium, home of the Miami Dolphins NFL team.

However, resident groups are taking race organisers to court seeking a permanent injunction on the event over allegations of racial discrimination and constitutional rights violations.

Formula One maintains the Miami race is on hold due to the pandemic.

And for all the problems already encountered in assembling a 23-race calendar, pandemic logistics remains the most significant.

The bulk of the 2020 season has been run in Europe to avoid exposure to sudden changes in restrictions, and volatile border closures are likely to remain a feature of international travel well into 2021.

But the sport has proved this year it can travel and operate safely through the pandemic, having recorded very few cases, and it is bullish it will be able to complete a normal program of races in 2021.

That includes the traditional season-opening Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, where local organisers are confident the race will go ahead in late March despite the current ban on most international travel into and out of the country.

Formula One is not alone in combining optimism with ambition in its 2021 outlook, but even F1 CEO Chase Carey admits there is still uncertainty in the calendar, and it would be a surprise if the sport made it to next December without being forced to make changes on the fly in the shadow of the pandemic.