The 2021 MotoGP calendar may be facing yet more reshuffling, after comments this weekend from a senior government figure suggesting October’s Thai Grand Prix at Buriram may once again be cancelled.
That decision could force significant changes to the latter half of the season’s already much-revamped schedule.
Minister of Sports and Culture Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn revealed to local media in Thailand that the race – currently scheduled for the October 15-17 weekend – is unlikely to go ahead as the country continues to face significant hurdles in defeating the coronavirus pandemic.
The race at the Chang International Circuit had already been postponed by a week in the changes prompted by the cancellation of races in Japan and Australia earlier this month.
And it seems that restrictions on foreigners entering the country means that the race is now unfeasible.
It was suggested that the MotoGP paddock could face similar restrictions to what it handled in Qatar at the start of the season, where only bus transfers not hire cars and certain sections of pre-approved hotels were permitted for those arriving in the country for the races.
However, with the circuit in Buriram located six hours’ drive from the nearest international airport in Bangkok, this option seems to have been ruled out now.
It also seems that, like last year, the chances of the race going ahead behind closed doors and without fans present is low.
That strategy has been adopted by other races, mainly in Europe so far, throughout the pandemic but it isn’t an option financially to the Thai promoter, meaning that increased restrictions on locals as well as visitors may be playing a role in the decision.
It was originally believed that should the race in Thailand not take place, one option would be for MotoGP to have two rounds at Sepang in Malaysia.
Sepang is a much easier venue for isolating the paddock thanks to its proximity to Kuala Lumpur International Airport, and plans were originally drawn up to do just that for pre-season testing in February, until a state of emergency was declared.
However, that state of emergency is still in place, and with an explosion in COVID-19 cases in the South East Asian country in recent weeks, the Malaysian race – currently scheduled for October 22-24 – could be in jeopardy too, especially as organisers there too have stressed the importance of ticket sales.
Should those races not go ahead, one option could be to add additional rounds to MotoGP’s trip to Texas in early October.
With the USA now relatively open again thanks to the success of its vaccine programme, two races at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin would give MotoGP an easy way to maintain at least some of the scheduled number of events.
But with control tyre manufacturer Michelin needing a three-month lead time to produce and ship the tyres needed to race at a venue, the clock is now ticking on future calendar reshuffles.
It’s now only 13 weeks until the first scheduled race in the US on October 1-3, meaning that any official confirmation of calendar changes needs to come imminently.
Current MotoGP schedule for rest of 2021
August 6-8: Red Bull Ring, Austria
August 13-15: Red Bull Ring, Austria
August 27-29: Silverstone, Great Britain
September 10-12: Aragon, Spain
September 17-19: Misano, Italy
October 1-3: Austin, USA
October 15-17: Buriram, Thailand
October 22-24: Sepang, Malaysia
November 5-7: Portimao, Portugal
November 12-14: Valencia, Spain