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Drivers prepare for the start of the Chinese Formula One Grand Prix at the Shanghai International Circuit, Sunday, April 14, 2019, in Shanghai, China.
F1 has not raced in China since 2019, back when Max Verstappen had yet to win a world championshipImage: Ng Han Guan/AP/picture alliance

F1 cancels Chinese GP again amid COVID and protests

December 2, 2022

Formula 1 has canceled the Chinese Grand Prix for the fourth year in a row. That leaves a long gap in the early-season schedule. China is facing rising COVID-19 case numbers and rare public protests against restrictions.

https://p.dw.com/p/4KPIA

Formula 1 announced on Friday that it was cancelling the Chinese Grand Prix for a fourth consecutive year. 

The race has not taken place since the emergence of COVID-19.

The news comes as China struggles with rising case numbers, and on the same week as rare public protests against lockdown measures imposed as part of the country's "zero-COVID" strategy. 

Policemen in yellow stand guard on Wulumuqi road, named for Urumqi in Mandarin, in Shanghai on November 29, 2022, two days after rare protests against China's zero-COVID policy following a deadly fire in Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang region.
The Wulumuqi road in downtown Shanghai was one of the protest flashpoints, as people demonstrated following a deadly fire; activists said authorities wouldn't let people leave a burning building in Xinjiang provinceImage: Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images

Protests have also affected the city of Shanghai, home to the race venue, the Shanghai International Circuit.

China: Was a lockdown to blame for the Urumqi tragedy?

The CEO of the Formula One Group, Stefano Domenicali, had warned in November that the race's place on F1's 2023 calendar was uncertain because of the COVID-19 situation. 

"Formula One can confirm, following a dialogue with the promoter and relevant authorities, that the 2023 Chinese Grand Prix will not take place due to the ongoing difficulties presented by the COVID-19 situation," F1 said in a short statement

"Formula One is assessing alternative options to replace the slot on the 2023 calendar and will provide an update on this in due course."

Teams concerned by quarantine and implications for travel

One major hurdle for the race, from the F1 teams' perspective, was China's tough measures to counter the spread of the virus for visitors to the country. Positive cases require an enforced quarantine in centralized facilities. 

F1 and local organizers had sought a way to enable the race to take place, but, with 10 teams and hundreds of personnel scheduled to fly in from all over the world — and needing to travel on toward the next race fairly rapidly after — the obstacles were too great.

China did manage to host the Winter Olympics last year with an elaborate enclosed "bubble" for participants and only a limited number of spectators. Beyond this, though, most international sporting events in the country have been called off amid the pandemic. 

Chinese officials this week suggested that the country will start rolling back pandemic restrictions, though it's not really clear how or when, or whether the statements are simply aimed at quenching the rare protests on the mainland in major cities such as Beijing and Shanghai.

Portimao to the rescue once more? 

The cancellation leaves a large four-week gap early on in what is otherwise the busiest schedule in the sport's history, with at least 23 races now slated to run subtracting the Shanghai event.

Australia's Grand Prix takes place on April 2, Azerbaijan's race on April 30, and China had been planned for April 16.

In the event of cancellation, F1 had initially hoped to bring the Azerbaijan event forward to better balance the timetable, but organizers in Baku made it clear that they did not want to reschedule. 

Drivers take off at the start of the Portuguese Formula One Grand Prix race at the Algarve International Circuit in Portimao on May 2, 2021.
The undulating Portuguese circuit of Portimao has stepped into the breach as as stand-in race in two of the past three years, and is considered a possible candidate to do so againImage: GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images

One possible replacement venue could be the Portuguese circuit of Portimao, which held initially unplanned races in 2020 and 2021 as part of the series' efforts to replace events canceled because of the pandemic.

The news will come as a blow to China's first and only F1 driver to date, Guanyu Zhou, who made his debut with Alfa Romeo in 2022 but is yet to race in front of his home crowd. 

China protests: How deep is public unrest?

msh/jcg (AP, dpa, Reuters)

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