Formula 1’s record 24-race calendar next year is set to be reduced to 23 after reports the Chinese Grand Prix will again be canceled due to the country’s strict Covid-19 quarantine policies.
UK public broadcaster the BBC said F1 had decided to cancel the race, scheduled for April 16, due to rules that require staff to submit themselves to strict quarantine measures if they contract Covid-19 whilst in the country.
The government requires anyone who contracts the virus to quarantine in an isolation center for five days, followed by three days of isolation at their home.
F1 staff have been told they will not be given exemptions from the requirements, making it impossible for the race to go ahead as the sport is unwilling to risk them being stuck in the country.
The series has not officially called off the race, but the report said the decision was “an inevitability.”
Stefano Domenicali, F1 chief executive, previously stated that the China race was “not certain” to take place as scheduled.
The country has not staged a Grand Prix since 2019 due to the pandemic but the race in Shanghai was included in F1’s provisional calendar for 2023 announced in September. The country hosted its first Grand Prix in 2004.
In November 2021, organizers of the Shanghai race extended their hosting agreement with F1 to 2025.
The BBC said F1 is not looking to replace the fourth race of the season and will look to fill the gap by moving the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in Baku forward by a week from April 30 to April 23.
Domenicali is understood to be in talks with authorities in Baku over the move while negotiating the extension of the race’s contract, which is due to expire next year.
If the race in Azerbaijan cannot be moved, there will be a four-week gap in the schedule between the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne on April 2 and the Baku race on April 30.
The new 23-race calendar will still be a record amount for the sport. The season is set to run from March 5 (Bahrain) to November 26 (Abu Dhabi) and will see Las Vegas in the US host its first Grand Prix since 1982 on November 18.
Meanwhile, F1 saw a 28% increase in US viewership over the last season, with an average of 1.21 million people watching per race, according to rightsholder ESPN.
Media giant Walt Disney Co., parent company of ESPN, holds live F1 rights in the US, a key market for series owners Liberty Media, in a deal that started in 2018. It recently struck a rights extension for all races through 2025.
It airs the races across its linear ESPN2 channel and sister free-to-air channel ABC.
The broadcaster said 17 of the 22 races drew an average of at least one million viewers this season, while a record 2.538 million average viewers tuned in for the inaugural Miami Grand Prix in May, which became the most-viewed live F1 race in the US.
Other races that set viewership records include Bahrain GP (1.35 million), Saudi Arabia GP (1.44 million), Spanish GP (1.145 million), British GP (1.239 million), Austrian GP (1.66 million), Hungarian GP (1.249 million), Belgian GP (1.047 million), Dutch GP (1.148 million), Italian GP (995,000), Singapore GP (1.036 million), and Sao Paulo GP (1.401 million).
Women viewers increase by 34% over 2021 to an average of 352,000, making up an average of 28% of this year’s audience in the US.