(Reuters) - Azerbaijan postponed its June 7 Formula One Grand Prix on Monday, leaving the stalled series with a major rescheduling headache after cancelling or calling off the season’s first eight races.
What would have been a record 22 round season has already lost two of its fixtures, including May’s showcase Monaco Grand Prix which will not feature in the championship for the first time since 1954.
The March 15 opener in Australia has also been cancelled while Bahrain, Vietnam, China, the Netherlands and Spain are postponed with no alternative dates proposed as yet and more races in doubt.
Organisers of the race in Baku said in a statement the decision to postpone was “a direct result of the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic and has been based entirely on the expert guidance provided to us by the relevant authorities.
“In coming to this conclusion, BCC (Baku City Circuit)’s primary concern throughout has been the health and well-being of the Azerbaijani people as well as all visiting F1 fans, staff and championship participants.”
Organisers said they hoped to be able to announce a new race date and all tickets would continue to be valid.
Preparation of the street circuit, which requires the installation of extensive safety fencing and barriers as well as the sealing of drain covers and asphalting, would have had to start soon.
The track has long, fast straights and a twisting stretch around the old town.
The crowd is usually small, with some 18,000 grandstand seats plus another 2,000 for hospitality and VIP and up to 15,000 general admission tickets available, but the race has been one of the more entertaining and unpredictable.
The next race that remains on is the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal on June 14 but that also looks uncertain due to the pandemic, as does France on June 28.
France currently has stringent restrictions on people’s movements while Canada has closed its borders to all but essential travel.
Questions are now being asked about whether Formula One, with rounds still to come in Asia, the Americas, Middle East and Europe, will be able to hold even the minimum eight races needed to make a championship.
Formula One has cancelled its usual August shutdown, bringing it forward and extending it to three weeks in March and April in the hope of rescheduling races from earlier in the season, but that may be wishful thinking.
Postponement of the race in Baku leaves Azerbaijan without a major sporting event in a year that had promised plenty of action.
The city had been due to host four games including a quarter-final of the Euro 2020 soccer championship but that has now been postponed to next year.
Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Jason Neely and Christian Radnedge