Formula 1

Formula 1 has today (Friday) said it is confident of finalising an amended 2020 calendar of 15 to 18 races after confirming the cancellation of this season’s grands prix in Azerbaijan, Singapore and Japan.

As a result of the ongoing challenges presented by COVID-19, F1 said it has reached an agreement with promoters in Azerbaijan, Singapore and Japan to cancel their races for the 2020 season. The motor racing championship said in a statement: “These decisions have been taken due to the different challenges our promoters face in those countries.

“In Singapore and Azerbaijan the long lead times required to construct street circuits made hosting the events during a period of uncertainty impossible and in Japan, ongoing travel restrictions also led to the decision not to proceed with the race.

“At the same time we have made significant progress with existing and new promoters on the revised calendar and have been particularly encouraged by the interest that has been shown by new venues in hosting a Formula 1 race during the 2020 season.

“We appreciate this is still a time of uncertainty and complexity around the world and will continue to ensure we proceed with the 2020 season in a cautious and flexible way. We have detailed and robust safety plans in place to ensure we begin our season in the safest possible way.”

Earlier this month, F1 said its season will begin in July in Austria as it announced an eight-race European calendar that will include two British grands prix at Silverstone. Austria’s Red Bull Ring will stage consecutive events on July 3-5 and July 10-12, before the series heads to Hungary’s Hungaroring in Budapest on July 17-19.

Silverstone will then host two rounds of its own from July 31 to August 2 and from August 7-9, with an event planned at Spain’s Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya the following week. The Belgian Grand Prix is pencilled in for Spa-Francorchamps from August 28-30 and the European swing will conclude from September 4-6 with the Italian Grand Prix at Monza.

On Thursday, F1’s managing director of motorsports, Ross Brawn, said that a plan for the second half of the 2020 season is coming together, with F1 stating today that the full calendar is expected to be revealed before the first race in Austria.

“Things are moving fast, but we still have time,” Brawn told F1’s official website. “We have lots of different options and we’re very confident we’re going to have a great second half of the season.

“There is a contingency to have an extended European season with another one or two races if needed. I think Bahrain and Abu Dhabi will be the backstop of the season from what we can see at the moment. That gives us 10. We’ll find at least five or six good races in the middle.”

Brawn also revealed other European circuits are being considered, with Mugello and Imola (Italy), Portimao (Portugal), and Hockenheim (Germany) all said to be under consideration. Brawn added: “There are a number of good European tracks where we could add another one or two races on to make sure we have a comprehensive season. We’re not going to declare it yet, as it’s still a work in progress.”

The escalating COVID-19 crisis forced the F1 to cancel the Australian Grand Prix on the eve of its season-opening event in Melbourne on March 15, triggering a wave of further postponements or outright cancellations.

MotoGP

MotoGP has revealed its new masterplan for the 2020 season, with the Jerez circuit set to commence a calendar dominated by Spanish events with back-to-back races on July 19 and July 26.

The motorcycling series’ Moto2 and Moto3 classes were able to start their season in Losail, Qatar on March 8 as they were already there for testing, but the premier MotoGP class was unable to race due to quarantine restrictions.

The new calendar calls for 17 races to take place between July and December, with four races outside of Europe to be officially confirmed by the end of July. The MotoGP season will start at the Circuito de Jerez – Angel Nieto in Spain with the Gran Premio Red Bull de España on July 19 and the Gran Premio Red Bull de Andalucía on July 26. This had initially been proposed last month.

Following a weekend off, the Monster Energy Grand Prix České Republiky will be held at Brno, before the myWorld Motorrad Grand Prix von Österreich and the Grand Prix von Styria at the Red Bull Ring in Austria on August 16 and August 23.

Three weeks later, the Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli will host the Gran Premio di San Marino e della Riviera di Rimini and the Gran Premio di Emilia Romagna e della Riviera di Rimini, rounds six and seven on consecutive weekends, with the rescheduled Gran Premi Monster Energy de Catalunya at the Circuit de Barcelona – Catalunya one week later on September 27.

On October 11, MotoGP will head to France with the rescheduled SHARK Helmets Grand Prix de France taking place at Le Mans. One week later, the fourth double-header of the season will take place in Aragon, Spain in the shape of the Gran Premio Michelin de Aragón and the Gran Premio de Teruel.

The final two European rounds will take place at Valencia’s Circuit Ricardo Tormo, with the European Grand Prix taking place on November 8 and the Gran Premio Motul de la Comunitat Valenciana taking place on November 15.

MotoGP’s promoter, Dorna Sports, has left open the possibility for four races to potentially take place outside of Europe from November 22 to December 13. The staging of the Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas, Grano Premio Motul de la Republica Argentina, OR Thailand Grand Prix and Shell Malaysia Motorcycle Grand Prix will all be confirmed before July 31.

Eight MotoGP races have been cancelled this season including the Qatar, Dutch, German, Finnish, British, Australian, Japanese and Italian rounds.

Australian sport

Australia’s Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, has today given the green light for fans to return to sports venues in significant numbers as part of further easing of COVID-19 restrictions.

Following a meeting of the National Cabinet, Morrison said that the 100 per person cap for each indoor gathering during Step Three of the country’s COVID-19 strategy will be removed, to be replaced by a four-square-metre rule for all premises.

The Federal Government will also allow attendance of up to 25% capacity at stadiums that have a capacity of less than 40,000 for events that are ticketed and seated. Venues with capacities greater than 40,000 will be dealt with by their respective state and territory governments.

Morrison said larger venues could be allowed to fill a quarter of their seats, with details to be ironed out in conjunction with chief health officers around the country. “When you’re up above 40,000, you’ve got more than 10,000 people going to a gathering, that has implications for the egress and access of and to those premises, public transport crushes, all those sorts of things,” he said, according to Australian broadcaster ABC. “That will require much more significant work.”

The Live Entertainment Industry Forum (LEIF), which was formed earlier this week to represent Australia’s largest live entertainment sport businesses in their recovery from the global pandemic, has welcomed the news.

LEIF said it will work closely with federal, state and territory governments to implement the new measures and enable the safe easing of further restrictions on organised mass gatherings, including for venues with capacities of greater than 40,000 spectators.

Aussie rules football league the AFL yesterday became the latest domestic competition to resume its 2020 season. Host stadia such as the MCG, Optus Stadium, Adelaide Oval, Marvel Stadium, the SCG and the Gabba all have capacities in excess of 40,000.

LEIF chairman James Sutherland said the body and its members have begun the “significant work” that Morrison said needs to be done to allow venues with capacities of greater than 40,000 to host spectators once again.

Sutherland added: “Australia has some of the finest stadia and venue professionals in the world. We are well equipped to manage the critical safety plans needed to ensure COVIDSafety in, around and to and from those venues.”

Super Rugby Aotearoa

Super Rugby franchise the Blues are set to play in front of their biggest crowd in a decade at Eden Park on Sunday as New Zealand’s Super Rugby Aotearoa competition kicks off this weekend.

The New Zealand government announced on Monday that the country can safely move out of Alert Level 2, paving the way for fans to return to sporting fixtures without any restrictions. The lift in restrictions will see Super Rugby Aotearoa become the first professional rugby competition in the world to have fans return “en-masse” following the COVID-19 outbreak.

There will be no limit on crowd numbers when the Highlanders take on the Chiefs at Dunedin’s 30,000-seat Forsyth Barr Stadium on Saturday. Fans will also be free to return without restrictions during Sunday’s match between the Blues and the Hurricanes at Auckland’s Eden Park.

A combined crowd of over 60,000 is expected at both Forsyth Barr Stadium and Eden Park. As of Friday afternoon, ticket sales were approaching 40,000 at Eden Park alone. Sunday’s game is also set to mark the debut of two-time world player of the year, Beauden Barrett, for the Blues.

Ahead of the game, Eden Park has released a video of the All Blacks star kicking balls from the roof of New Zealand’s national stadium. Eden Park CEO Nick Sautner said: “New Zealand is a global leader in tourism, agriculture and film, and we’re now being able to experience live sport back in stadia together again following the worldwide pandemic.

“We’re hoping to welcome back 50,000 of our team of five million who all played a key role in eliminating COVID-19.”

LaLiga

LaLiga president Javier Tebas has said fans could return to stadia before the end of the 2019-20 season, but Irene Lozano, president of Spain’s National Sports Council (CSD), has maintained that games will remain behind closed doors.

Spanish football’s top division resumed yesterday following its suspension due to COVID-19, as Sevilla defeated Real Betis 2-0 at Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán. Last night’s match was one of 110 games that will be played by July 19.

The Spanish government’s rules for the easing of lockdown restrictions would technically allow for the return of some fans from June 29. Speaking on a conference call with international journalists ahead of the Seville derby, Tebas said: “The pandemic is on a sharp decline.

“The return to stadiums would need to be coordinated by the Ministry for Health and the CSD, and obviously it won’t involve using the whole stadium. If we can get 10% or 15% this season we would be very happy. It would be part of that ‘normality’. It’s important that fans start to return.”

However, speaking to Spanish broadcaster Antena3, Lozano said: “I am going to be blunt: you cannot go to stadiums or the immediate vicinity to generate gatherings of any kind. As there have been people who have sowed some confusion on this point, I want to make it clear that in no case is the public expected to return to the stadiums.”

Lozano made similar comments after Segunda División side Las Palmas, which is based in Gran Canaria, recently said it was hoping to return fans to its stadium. She added yesterday: “The final decision on whether or not the public will attend is with the CSD. There is no debate on whether in one community they have a situation and in another a different one.

“It is better that we choose the prudence of playing behind closed doors from the health point of view. From a sports point of view, what happens will happen in all the stadiums at once because it is the way to guarantee the integrity of the competition.”

Image: Singapore GP