The season-opening Formula E races in Santiago have been postponed due to the ongoing situation regarding COVID-19 travel limitations from the United Kingdom to other countries.
Formula E’s decision comes after senior figures at the championship, including co-founder and deputy CEO, Alberto Longo held long discussions with Chilean government ministers to try and find a way to keep the event on.
On Monday, the Chilean government had issued a travel ban regarding any passenger coming from the UK for 14 days.
All direct flights between the UK and Chile have been cancelled, and any non-resident who wants to visit Chile will not be accepted if they have been to the UK in the prior 14 days.
These measures were issued in response to reports of a new strain of COVID-19 discovered in the UK earlier this month. Chile is one of over 40 other countries to implement these restrictions.
The Race has obtained a copy of the official communication which was sent to teams and partners on Tuesday afternoon.
It reads: “Chile has temporarily closed its borders with the UK. As such, in consultation with the Santiago municipality, we have agreed to postpone the Santiago E-Prix.
“It will no longer take place as a double-header on January 16 and 17. Instead, we are working with the city to finalise dates on which to stage the races later in Q1.
“We will officially communicate these new dates as part of our January calendar update when we will also confirm the second set of 2020/21 races.”
A large proportion of the Formula E paddock is based in the UK, including the majority of staff from six of the 12 teams.
The discussion between Formula E and government officials is believed to have explored the possibility of special access to the country for the event which was going to be held amid strict COVID-19 protocols and thorough PCR testing anyway.
With initial work being started at the Parque O’Higgins venue earlier this week and more structural aspects scheduled for December 26, Formula E was forced into the decision to postpone the event.
It means that depending on travel freedoms, the Diriyah E-Prixs scheduled for the final week of February will now begin the first world championship Formula E season.
However, Formula E is presently in talks with Saudi organisers to see if the Diriyah double-header will still be in a position to host races.
The upcoming Dakar rally which will run in Saudi Arabia could face some disruption due to the travel restrictions in UK and possible knock-on effects.
Formula E is working on announcing the second phase of its 2020-21 calendar at the end of January but this is likely to be further delayed due to the on-going disruption.
The Race says
Such a late postponement for the first world championship Formula E race is a bitter blow to the organisers, the FIA and partners in the world’s premier electric racing series in what should have been a glittering fresh chapter for motorsports newest world championship.
Formula E had already carefully planned how it could race in Santiago to kick-off its seventh season after its initial calendar went into a phased announcement strategy in October. This meant that Santiago expanded into a double-header slot and the Mexico City and Sanya events in February and March postponed for possible dates later in the season.
However, as recently as the pre-season test in Valencia last month Formula E and the Chilean capital had upgraded the event status of the Santiago double-header weekend so that partners would be allowed to attend dependent on PCR testing and being in Formula E’s event bubble.
With all bar BMW, Audi, Venturi, Nissan, Porsche and Mercedes being based in the UK, key staff were simply unable to gain access to Chile either directly or via a host of other countries which act as transit airports.
This new set-back for Formula E, although out of its immediate control, will cause further uncertainty for manufacturers and partners in the championship just at a time when many of them are making far-reaching decisions on continuing into the third iteration of the rules which will kick in for the 2022/23 season.
While some are publicly showing strong solidarity with Formula E, others are known to be looking at whether they can continue in the present uncertain climate of calendar uncertainty and general economic downturn.
As for the future calendar, Formula E has stated that Santiago will try and be re-positioned in the first quarter of 2021. This is likely to be in March which was set to be fallow anyway.
Another possible option is that the cars, which are already in South America, are kept there and the season can actually begin with a re-purposed Santiago double-header in March, should the Diriyah E-Prix also hit issues with travel restrictions.
But trying to second guess the global situation at present is like juggling sand for motorsport organisers, and with new situations occurring almost daily it appears that 2021 will present just as many issues in achieving a full global calendar as it did in 2020.