Formula 1 faces another reshuffling of its 2021 calendar after confirmation Wednesday that this year’s Japanese Grand Prix will no longer take place.
It is the fourth event, after Canada, Singapore and Australia, to drop off the schedule due to pandemic-related restrictions. A fifth, China, remains officially postponed, but effectively canceled.
Formula 1 has not visited Japan since 2019 but held out hope that the recent staging of the Olympic Games in Tokyo, and the impending Paralympic Games, would allow its event to happen. Protocols were outlined in which traveling personnel would remain in a strict biosphere, unable to leave the circuit or hotel throughout their stay, while arriving and departing on charter flights.
But this was not approved by the Japanese government and as a consequence the event, planned for October 10, at the Suzuka Circuit in Mie Prefecture, has had to be cancelled for a second successive season.
It is a disappointing outcome in particular for Honda; the company owns Suzuka and is withdrawing its presence from Formula 1 as power unit supplier to Red Bull and AlphaTauri at the end of the year. Honda had a realistic shot at contending for victory at its home track for the first time since 1991, having taken six wins with Red Bull this season. It also leaves debutant Yuki Tsunoda, the first Japanese driver since 2014, without a home round.
“It was a very painful, frustrating and disappointing decision,” said Kaoru Tanaka, president of Honda-owned race promoter Mobilityland. “We had no choice but to cancel it. From this moment we will start preparing for next year’s Japanese Grand Prix.”
The cancellation of Japan is also a significant blow to Formula 1, which faces hurdles in order to complete a 23-race calendar across the remaining months of 2021.
Formula 1 still has 12 Grands Prix to complete to fulfill its goal of 23 races, but with Japan’s cancellation, combined with the previous axing of Australia’s round, has only 10 more races still listed on the current schedule.
Of those 10, there remain complications because of several countries remaining on the United Kingdom’s red list, which mandates that anyone traveling from those destinations must quarantine in a government-approved hotel for 10 days. The majority of Formula 1 teams and personnel, along with crew needed for broadcast purposes, are based in the UK.
Turkey, Mexico and Brazil—which are all scheduled to hold events in October and early November—are on the UK’s red list.
Japan had been slotted as the last of a three race stretch of races, after Russia and Turkey, thus allowing personnel to evade hotel quarantine in the UK.
A potential doubleheader at Austin’s Circuit of the Americas, due to host the United States Grand Prix on October 24, has been mooted. In fact, a spike in COVID-19 cases in Austin, reducing the availability of medical facilities in the region has raised concerns that Formula 1’s event in Texas may be in doubt.
In a statement released Wednesday, recognizing Japan’s cancellation, Formula 1 outlined that it is “now working on the details of the revised calendar” and that the final details will be announced in the coming weeks.
“Formula 1 has proven this year, and in 2020, that we can adapt and find solutions to the ongoing uncertainties and is excited by the level of interest from locations to host Formula 1 events this year and beyond.”
Formula 1 introduced several unexpected European venues in fall 2020 to fill gaps in its calendar while for 2021 changes were made when flyaway rounds were canned, with Portugal hosting a round in May, while Austria held two Grands Prix. But it is thought that a repeat is unlikely owing to financial complications. Instead, adding more rounds in the Middle East, is a probable outcome.
Qatar’s Losail Circuit, which hosts MotoGP rounds, has been linked to a Grand Prix. Bahrain’s Sakhir Circuit, the venue for Formula 1’s 2021 opener, could also step in, after its Outer Layout proved a hit with spectators when it was drafted into the lineup last December.
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