Formula E facing major calendar shake-up due to coronavirus
© DHL Motorsport
© DHL Motorsport

Formula E facing major calendar shake-up due to coronavirus

Summary:

The latest update on coronavirus

With a number of major global sporting events being cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak, Formula E organisers are facing an uncertain few weeks with a number of scheduled dates on the calendar now under threat of cancellation.

Inside Electric understands that the Rome, Seoul, and Jakarta rounds could be either cancelled or postponed due to the coronavirus epidemic, and a number of options are being discussed in the eventually that some or all of these rounds fall off the calendar.

Rome appears to be the most likely to be affected at this stage, but Seoul has emerged as a major concern of late. Should that race also have to be postponed, moving it to later in the year could also prove a challenge as the available dates become limited as time goes on.

There could potentially be a free weekend in between Jakarta (should that remain on the calendar) and Berlin, but this would mean a gruelling tripleheader which is unlikely to receive the go-ahead.

Beyond that, a date at the end of June or the beginning of July could be possible, but logistically it would be a squeeze given that the New York City round is scheduled to take place on July 11th.

Should two or more of these races end up being cancelled, a more likely scenario would see the Berlin and New York City rounds become doubleheaders, as both circuits are located away from their respective city centres and would require minimal disruption to nearby roads due to their location.

Inside Electric also understands that team principals have discussed in a meeting at the the idea of returning to Circuit Moulay el Hassan in the date slot vacated by the postponed Sanya E-Prix. Although no official confirmation has been made, this would mean two races being run at the circuit within a month, the second of which taking place in just three weeks’ time.

The idea of a “closed-door” TV-only race in Rome with no spectators was also tabled but this has not been well-received as the risk of quarantine would remain for teams and staff.

When asked for comment, a Formula E spokesperson told Inside Electric, “We are continuing to monitor the spread of coronavirus and the number of new cases in countries where events are scheduled to be held. We are working closely with our local partners and the relevant authorities in each race location, to assess the situation as it develops on a daily basis. Preparations for all remaining races are continuing as planned.”

How much of a threat does the coronavirus (COVID-19) pose to Formula E?

It’s potentially huge. As we know, the Sanya E-Prix has already been postponed and is unlikely to be rearranged. As the virus spreads rapidly throughout Asia, Europe and the Middle East, there are a number of potential complications that COVID-19 now poses.

The World Health Organisation has raised the global risk assessment level for COVID-19 to “very high”. This is likely to mean tighter restrictions on travel, and depending on how quickly and aggressively the virus continues to spread, may also mean a complete lockdown in some areas with a ban on staging public events or meetings of any kind.

If this happens, there’s very little that can be done. Race organisers may look to downplay concerns and suggest that their event can still go ahead. But in reality, their respective governments may make that decision for them.

What races, specifically, are most likely to be affected by the disease?

As mentioned, the biggest concerns at the moment centre around Rome and Seoul, but talk is growing of Jakarta being at risk too. Inside Electric understands a decision is likely to be made shortly on Rome, and currently, the most likely scenario would see that race cancelled.

With the Rome race having originally been scheduled for the beginning of April, just over a month away, there are growing concerns around the viability of staging that race as the numbers of confirmed cases in Italy continues to rise.

At the time of writing, there have been 655 confirmed cases in Italy and 17 deaths. The majority of cases right now are centred around the Lombardy region (the area around Milan) and the Veneto region (close to Venice).

The mayor of Rome, Virginia Raggi, and the president of the Lazio region (where Rome is located), Nicola Zingaretti, have both stressed that there is no emergency situation regarding coronavirus in the Italian capital. However, we have already seen in other countries that the disease moves quickly and unpredictably.

Meanwhile, the Seoul E-Prix, scheduled for May 3rd, is on equally shaky ground right now. The number of confirmed cases have soared in South Korea over the past week with 2,337 confirmed so far including 12 deaths, although the majority of these are centred in Daegu, South Korea’s fourth-largest city, which is 238km from Seoul.

Significantly, most of these cases have come in the past 10 days, and there is real concern in the country about its ability to stem the virus’s rapid spread, and as a result, the South Korean government has moved to declare a state of national emergency.

South Korean boy band BTS, who are also global ambassadors for Formula E, have recently cancelled a run of four sold-out shows in the Seoul Olympic Stadium due to concerns over the potential spread of the virus. The band’s record label explained the decision to cancel the tour, saying that it was “impossible at this time to predict the scale of the outbreak”.

Aside from Italy and South Korea, there is also some concern as mentioned regarding the inaugural Jakarta E-Prix, scheduled to take place in June. Despite having no officially reported cases of COVID-19, Indonesia is still considered a high-risk country by health experts who believe the virus may be lying undetected there.

There are no major concerns as yet regarding the Berlin round in late June or the returning at the end of July, however, the New York round scheduled for July 11th could yet come under scrutiny if an outbreak takes place in the United States in the coming weeks.

What are the main complications that make it difficult to stage these races?

Aside from the obvious risk of becoming infected, there are several other issues to contend with that make staging these races difficult.

Firstly, there is the risk of enforced quarantine. Even if a race such as Rome or Seoul were to go ahead, with so many confirmed cases elsewhere in those countries there is likely to still be a risk of new cases breaking out. Should that happen nearby while the race is being held, there’s a risk that drivers, team members, fans, or anyone else associated with Formula E, could be forced into quarantine for up to two weeks.

This weekend, in Marrakesh, was quarantined for several hours in hospital while awaiting the results of a test for coronavirus. Although the Frenchman has spent the weekend feeling very unwell, he was later cleared to race having tested negative for the virus.

At the Formula 2 pre-season test in Bahrain, some teams have faced long waits at the border before being allowed entry to the country, while Danish driver Christian Lundgaard has been forced to skip the test entirely having been detained in his hotel in Tenerife while on a winter training trip.

Aside from the quarantine threat, there is the added complication of travel, with some airlines cancelling or reducing flights into countries that are currently struggling with the outbreak. On top of this, some insurance companies may not provide full coverage should flights and hotel reservations need to be cancelled.

There’s also a risk that the local government in any of these cities could make a last-minute call to ban public gatherings at short notice.

Just this week, the annual Geneva International Motor Show, where Formula E’s Gen2 EVO car was supposed to be unveiled along with a number of manufacturer debuts, was cancelled at the last minute because the Swiss government made a late call to ban gatherings of 1,000 people or more. Setup of the show had already begun and the show was scheduled to begin next week.

Were Formula E to lose the Seoul E-Prix it would be a huge blow for the championship, as the series has already been forced to cancel the Chinese round in Sanya.

Asia is a vitally important region for Formula E’s growth, and the inaugural event in South Korea was seen as a key milestone given that the country’s electric car market is one of the largest in the world.

If any of these races are postponed, what will Formula E do?

As far as the is concerned, any postponement is likely to end up being a permanent one (for this season) as there are limited options for when this could be re-arranged, especially given that there are several Euro 2020 matches scheduled for Rome this June.

If those matches are cancelled, then it’s hard to see that the Formula E race being reinstated, but if those matches do go ahead, it then adds a secondary issue of trying avoiding a date clash between the two events which could be tricky to manage.

The organisers of the Seoul E-Prix will be doing everything in their power to ensure the race goes ahead, but right now, there’s a strong possibility that the scheduled May 3rd date will not happen.

As for Jakarta, there’s still a possibility this could go ahead, and it’s too soon to suggest what might happen yet if it doesn’t. Any decisions surrounding this event will depend largely on available dates in the calendar and also the severity of the risk involved in returning there.

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