The evolution of the coronavirus pandemic has already been the cause of numerous alterations in the initial 2021 MotoGP World Championship calendar. Now the dreaded shadow of the COVID-19 is also looming over the inaugural round of the season, the Qatar GP scheduled for March 28.
The small emirate country has managed to keep a very low contagion level overall so far but the situation seems to have worsened considerably in recent days. So much so that the country’s authorities are starting to be concerned – some might even be downright opposed – with the arrival of a one-thousand strong contingent from multiple nationalities and locations around the globe.
That is roughly the number of individuals that make up the MotoGP World Championship entourage. Travelling with the team’s staff (drivers, mechanics, team leaders and press, physiotherapists, etc.) are also a number of other indispensable professionals such as doctors, transporters, editors, camera operators, journalists, etc.
This gigantic structure of human resources is necessary in order to bring to fruition a sporting competition of this size and complexity. Still, and despite the growing number of voices questioning the event, the season should start with a double date at the Losail International Circuit.
On March 26-28, it will be the turn of the Qatar Grand Prix and just a week later, from April 2 to 4, of the Doha Grand Prix. Officially things remain unchanged but the feeling is that their celebration is still very much in the air.
Portugal could host the new inaugural round
If the Qatar events are finally cancelled, everything points out that the inaugural round could be moved to Portimao. The Portuguese track, Autodromo del Algarve, which is back in the MotoGP calendar for the second consecutive year as a replacement venue, would just have to move its current date slightly forward in the season.
The Portuguese GP has already moved once into the second destination of this year’s calendar. The Argentina GP (Autódromo Termas de Río Hondo), which was originally second, as well as the following one, the Grand Prix of the Americas (COTA), have both been postponed to the end of the year with no specific date assigned as of yet.
Only a considerable improvement in the epidemiological situation following a successful vaccination programme could save them, although it seems it might already be too late for at least one of the two.
Qatar testing sessions
Something similar has happened with the MotoGP preseason tests. Initially due to take place at the Sepang Circuit, the advance of the disease in Malaysia meant these had to be moved to Qatar.
This year, Qatar will also host the training sessions for Moto 2 and Moto3. The risks associated with these two categories performing their tests in Jerez (Spain) before traveling to Qatar, has led championship organisers to the decision of grouping them all in the same venue.
In this way, every member of staff involved with the three motorcycling categories will fly directly to Doha, where they will stay for approximately one month, the time from the beginning of the training sessions until the end of the second round of the championship. During that time, no member of the expedition will be able to leave the country.
The preseason will begin on March 3 and 4 with the traditional ‘set-up’. Twenty-four hours later, a shakedown would take place, intended exclusively for test and novice drivers, followed by the official test sessions. These would be divided into two phases; the first one on March 6 and 7 and the second on March 10 and 12, both in Losail.
Images: Losail International Circuit.