The Vietnamese Grand Prix has been dropped from the 2021 Formula 1 calendar, raising doubts that the race will ever take place.
A street race in the capital Hanoi was due to make its debut in April this year before it was called off as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
The date of the Vietnam race, 25 April, has been left blank on a 22-race schedule for 2021 published on Tuesday. The calendar could extend to 23 grands prix – a new record – if F1 can find a replacement for Vietnam.
The 2021 season is scheduled to start in Australia on 21 March and end in Abu Dhabi on 5 December.
The British Grand Prix at Silverstone is on 18 July and the new Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, announced last week, the penultimate race on 28 November.
Following the experience of establishing this year’s truncated season, and talks with the countries involved for 2021, F1 said it was confident it would be able to run its calendar next year as long as the global pandemic does not take a major turn for the worse.
An F1 statement said: “The plans for 2021 have involved extensive dialogue with all promoters and their local and national authorities at a time of ongoing fluidity related to the global pandemic.
“Formula 1 and the FIA put in place robust health and safety measures to allow the revised 2020 season to restart and run effectively.
“Our hosts for 2021 are reassured by our safe return to racing this season and confident that the plans and procedures we have in place will allow us to return to a level of normality for the 2021 season.”
F1 chairman and chief executive officer Chase Carey said: “We are planning for 2021 events with fans that provide an experience close to normal and expect our agreements to be honoured.
“We have proven that we can safely travel and operate our races and our promoters increasingly recognise the need to move forward and manage the virus.
“In fact, many hosts actually want to use our event as a platform to show the world they are moving forward.”
Why did Vietnam race collapse?
The removal of Vietnam, which at the time was the first new event introduced by F1’s new owners Liberty Media, has been triggered by the arrest on corruption charges of a key official responsible for the race in Hanoi.
Hanoi People’s Committee chairman Nguyen Duc Chung was arrested in August for alleged appropriation of documents containing state secrets.
The case is not related to his involvement in the grand prix.
However, Chung was the key figure in the race being introduced and championed it with the national government. His absence has led to a vacuum and Vietnamese authorities have told F1 that the government has other priorities, including key elections, the pandemic and recovery from a typhoon.
Talks are ongoing with regard to a possible race in Vietnam in 2022, but the situation raises the significant possibility that the event will be still-born.
Any replacement race next year would be at one of the tracks added to the calendar this year as a result of the pandemic, with Turkey, Italy’s Imola and Portugal’s Portimao the leading candidates.
Why Sao Paulo and not Rio?
One key development is that the calendar features a race in Brazil, and it is scheduled to be in Sao Paulo rather than Rio de Janeiro. The event is listed as provisional for now.
The contract for Sao Paulo’s Interlagos track, which has hosted the event since 1990, ended this year, and F1 has agreed a deal for a race at a new circuit yet to be built in the Deodoro area of Rio.
However, the Rio track requires environmental approval as it involves the felling of a patch of forest.
This has not yet been granted and the project is clouded in controversy and confusion, with world champion Lewis Hamilton among those indicating their opposition to the track being built.
F1 has political complications in returning to Interlagos, as the sport’s owner Liberty Media refuses to deal with the promoter at the circuit, who is close to former F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone.
The race is likely to go ahead with a new promoter.
Otherwise, the calendar bears a strong resemblance to the original 2020 schedule, which had to be restructured after the first 10 races were called off as a result of the pandemic.
The biggest change is the moving of the Dutch Grand Prix from the spring to 5 September, where it follows a week after the neighbouring Belgian event.
The race at the seaside town of Zandvoort had been due to return for the first time since 1985 this April, but was a casualty of the pandemic.