Racing fans in the United States enjoyed a full 36-race NASCAR schedule last year, while IndyCar did its best to get theirs as close to normal as possible. But two other racing bodies, Formula E and Formula 1, scheduled to come to America for single events, saw COVID-19 ruin those plans.
The 2020 New York City ePrix, a Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) Formula E series event, was on its calendar for July 20. Officially known as the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship, it is a single-seat competition using only electric cars. The race, first held in 2017, uses the streets of Red Hook in the Borough of Brooklyn.
The conditional release of this season’s Formula E schedule had Mexico and China as part of it, but officials indefinitely postponed them in October due to COVID-19. Chile is also no longer on the calendar either. The series official website only shows a season-opening doubleheader in Saudi Arabia.
"Formula E will continue to work with local authorities to monitor the situation and is in constant communication with its community of teams, manufacturers, partners, broadcasters, and drivers," a series statement read. "The next set of races will be confirmed in early 2021." All calendar updates are subject to [the] approval of the FIA World Motor Sport Council.”
The 2020 Formula 1 season also saw significant modifications to put together a championship season. But the Formula 1 United States Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas last October was called off, mostly due to concerns over COVID and travel restrictions. It could face the same problems this year.
Formula E targets a return to the Big Apple on July 10. Unfortunately, it is impossible to gauge how the series will adjust its schedule based on canceled events. F1 is looking at Texas in late October following an event in Japan. Both racing bodies have a “schedule subject to change” caveat.
While international racing in America is limited and the events are scheduled down a little later in the year, domestic motorsports face challenges as soon as next month.
Nascar in Florida during COVID?
Florida is where NASCAR will open the season with a whopping six events, three of them points-paying, consuming the month of February. The Daytona 500 is its marquee event, the Super Bowl of Racing, if you will, and will take place on Valentine’s Day. Under normal circumstances, only the weather can affect it, but nothing is normal these days.
The Sunshine State is one of the hottest COVID-19 hotspots in the country. According to NBC News, the number of cases in Florida has jumped over the last two weeks. Neighboring Georgia is also suffering from a similar fate.
Even with the vaccine's rollout, there is no guarantee those numbers will dramatically come down. The state has a governor who is on record as saying the first shot you get should be enough—not exactly encouraging if you are a NASCAR official.
NASCAR activity at Daytona International Speedway starts in less than a month with NASCAR Speedweeks shortly after that. Following the Daytona 500, drivers and teams stayed at the track because officials called off a California race with COVID running wild in that state. It also forced the Homestead-Miami Speedway to be pushed back from being the second race to the third, so the series doesn’t leave the state until the last day of the month.
If NASCAR decision-makers were as concerned as to cancel the third race of the season in California because of the pandemic, why not Florida? As a point of fact, the same NBC pandemic report shows the Golden State holding steady.
As of Nov. 11, Florida’s COVID restrictions are negligible. The Wall Street Journal headline blared, “Florida Sticks to No Statewide Restrictions Amid Pandemic.” That remains true to this day. Despite that, NASCAR is going full speed ahead with plans.
INDYCAR shows the way to NASCAR
The NTT IndyCar Series saw this early on and moved their season opener, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, from March 7, a month after NASCAR, to Apr 15. Of course, conditions could alter that date as well. But at least it was proactive.
If NASCAR isn’t worried about drivers, crew, and support personnel in a hot spot, what’s to say they fling the doors open for fans? The sport is already on record saying they will limit crowds, but is the sport going to wait until the last minute to decide?
As a whole, racing lost tons of money in 2020, especially NASCAR, even though it let a fraction of track capacities in to see live events late in the season - and only at select venues. So what are we to expect at Daytona and Homestead-Miami in February?