The global spread of Coronavirus has forced organizers to cancel the race in Qatar and postpone the race in Malaysia. Ezpeleta and Dorna Sports assure us that there will be a 2020 MotoGP season, although it is possible that the calendar will be partly reorganized.
The International Motorcycling Federation, Dorna and the IRTA made the joint decision to cancel the Qatar Grand Prix for the MotoGP class and to postpone to a later date the Thailand Grand Prix for all three classes due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus (or Coronavirus). The start of the Grand Prix motorcycle racing season is thus delayed to 8 April 2020, with the US Grand Prix in Austin on the Circuit of the Americas.
The virus changes MotoGP. The causes of the cancellation and postponement
In these hours of confusion and agitation for teams, operators and fans, it is especially important to have a clear picture, separating – as the expression says – the sheep from the goats. First of all, we need to remind ourselves that the causes of the cancellation of the Qatar MotoGP and the postponing of the race in Thailand are fundamentally different.
The Emirates would have hosted the top class without any problems, given that there are no restrictions in place for holding large events, just as it is perfectly happy to go ahead with Moto2 and Moto3.
The problem in Qatar is essentially the concern about lots of Italians crowding the paddock, which is, according to the local government, the greatest risk. Our fellow Italians, once they reached Qatar, would have had to spend two weeks in quarantine before being allowed to get on with their business. This doesn’t fit well with the Grand Prix timeframe and therefore, it would have effectively deprived MotoGP of a large number of riders, engineers and operators. Dorna, FIM and IRTA thus made the joint decision to cancel the GP for the MotoGP class, allowing only Moto2 and Moto3 to go ahead, whose teams are already at Losail for pre-season tests.
The situation is substantially different for Thailand, where, despite there being no problems for the arrival and departure of Italians and Europeans in general, there is a ban on all events involving more than a thousand people, precisely due to the rapid spread of Coronavirus. Unfortunately, or fortunately, the Buriram round, since it was established, has been the Grand Prix with the biggest turnout in the stands and paddocks, with hundreds of thousands of fans filling every space available.
A reorganized MotoGP calendar?
At the moment of writing, the situation is also uncertain in the US, where the Grand Prix should kick off on the Circuit of the Americas on 5 April. The US has in fact issued a “Level-4 Warning / Do not Travel” for residents of Veneto and Lombardy, two regions that are home to a number of sportsmen and teams engaged in Grand Prix racing.
Exactly as happened for Qatar, it is difficult to imagine a Grand Prix without anyone from Lombardy and Veneto on the track (or, obviously, anyone who has travelled to these regions): to name just two, Yamaha Racing is based in Gerno di Lesmo in Brianza and Aprilia’s headquarters are in Noale in Veneto.
As I write, the Argentinian authorities have instead confirmed without a doubt that the Termas di Rio Hondo Grand Prix will go ahead on the weekend of 18 April. Equally, Carmelo Ezpeleta, CEO of Dorna Sports, reiterated that there will be a normal MotoGP 2020 season and that every effort will be made to limit the inconveniences. An initial proposal is to include the Thailand GP in the Asian Triptych, where it used to be up until last year. Come autumn, it is hoped not only that the pandemic is over, but also that everything is very much back to normal, allowing Grand Prix racing to go ahead as usual.
What is clear is that none of this is certain at the moment. The situation evolves continuously and – as demonstrated by last weekend – things can take a rapid turn in just a few hours: the three classes united could be back on the track from America, Argentina or Jerez in Spain on 3 May. Right now, we just don’t know.
“Love in the time of cholera”, or not
It is all too easy to borrow the famous title by Gabriel Garcia Marquez in these feverish circumstances, but it is important, if not essential, to draw appropriate distinctions.
First of all, we must remember that all this is done with a view to protecting global health and safety in the face of an increasingly transnational infection emergency. If one thing is certain about this Coronavirus, it is that it is highly contagious. A championship such as MotoGP, which requires hundreds of people from all over the world to move every two weeks from one country to another and from one continent to another, is potentially an extraordinary vehicle for the transmission and transferability of the COVID-19 virus. The sacrosanct imperative is to protect the health of everyone: on this we are all agreed.
That said, it is understandable that these hours are troubling, with numerous issues arising, big and small, ranging from the logistics difficulties of the teams to the relationship with sponsors, organizational problems for the future and the prompt communications required to get the whole machine literally back on track.
I, for one, am certain that these problems will be overcome and that Grand Prix racing will be reunited with its fans and circuits as soon as possible. In the meantime, the hope is that this astonishing illness that has hit our planet may disappear back to where it came from. Leaving us to get back on our bikes and, above all, with a new smile on our faces.