Millions of F1 fans around the world can’t wait to return to the track this year, but it’s going to be difficult during the first half of the season.
Almost one year ago, the first race of the 2020 Formula 1 season in Melbourne was cancelled at the last minute due to the emerging COVID-19 pandemic. The 2020 season wouldn’t end up beginning at the Red Bull Ring in Austria until July, and the vast majority of the 17 events that Formula 1 did successfully run last year were held behind closed doors.
Last November, Formula 1 announced plans for a record 23-race calendar in 2021. Many keen observers felt the calendar was overly optimistic given the ongoing threat from COVID-19. It was no surprise to see updates announced to the 2021 calendar last month. Formula 1 was never going to undergo a 2-week quarantine to race in Melbourne and the 2021 Australian Grand Prix has now been moved to November, between the Brazilian Grand Prix and the new race in Saudi Arabia.
With less than three weeks until the beginning of the 2021 season in Bahrain, how are the prospects for returning safely to the track as a spectator this year?
It seems increasingly likely that attending many early-season races will be compromised by ongoing travel restrictions around the world. It’s probably going to be possible to attend a race in your home country (or by driving across some borders in Europe perhaps) but flying long-haul to a race on the other side of the world seems unlikely before later in the season.
Bahrain tickets finally on sale, but there’s a catch
A limited number of tickets are finally on sale for the opening race of the season in Bahrain on March 26-28, not including hospitality or the Formula 1 Paddock Club. To attend the race in Bahrain, spectators will need to prove they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or have recently recovered from the virus. Such restrictions are unlikely to be the norm in 2021, however.
Three weeks later, the European season begins at Autodromo Imola, but organizers have not yet announced details of whether fans will be allowed to attend the 2021 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix. After the cancellation of the Vietnam Grand Prix, the third race of the season has finally been confirmed to take place at the Algarve International Circuit in Portugal – as with last year, a limited number of spectators are expected to be able to attend the race in Portimão but ticket sales have not yet begun.
In May, the F1 calendar begins to resemble what it has looked like in recent seasons with the Spanish Grand Prix on May 7-9 and the Monaco Grand Prix on May 20-23. Tickets for the race in Barcelona are now on sale, but the offer is limited to just a handful of grandstands with extensive social distancing policies in place. The construction of Circuit de Monaco is also underway, and thousands of tickets have already been sold for the 2021 Monaco Grand Prix, which has been confirmed to take place with fans in attendance.
The issue for international fans hoping to attend one of these early-season races continues to be the ever-changing international travel restrictions. Citizens from the UK are still not allowed to travel internationally until at least May 17 – and this date may be extended. The need to quarantine on arrival in many countries, or when returning home from certain countries, is a further complication.
2021 Azerbaijan Grand Prix to be held behind closed doors
Late last week, it was announced that the 2021 Azerbaijan Grand Prix in Baku will be held behind closed doors. It’s the first race of the record-breaking 2021 season to be confirmed as having no spectators, though it seems likely that it won’t be the last.
The organizers are hoping to run the 2021 Canadian Grand Prix with a limited number of spectators, but tickets are not yet on sale and the Canada-US border remains closed. Returning to Europe, tickets are now on sale for the races leading up to the summer break in France, Austria, Britain and Hungary. It’s worth noting that the promoter of the French Grand Prix is only offering the possibility of transferring your tickets (rather than refunds) should the race be postponed or cancelled this year; so far this is the only race we know in 2021 of that will not offer full refunds for a force majeure event.
The prospects for a large number of fans being able to attend the British Grand Prix at Silverstone this year have also been increased by the UK government’s strong progress on the vaccine rollout and plans to remove all restrictions by June 21.
International travel looks more likely in the second half of the 2021 Formula 1 season
As major countries vaccinate large numbers of their population and international travel opens again, it’s reasonable to be more confident about attending fly-away races in the second of the season.
Following the summer break, the 2021 F1 calendar kicks into high gear with three triple headers and 12 races in 16 weeks between the Belgian Grand Prix and the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on December 10-12. Tickets are already on sale for the Belgian Grand Prix (August 27-29) and the return of the Dutch Grand Prix one week later (September 3-5), but ticket sales have not yet begun for the Italian Grand Prix (September 10-12).
After a short break, Formula 1 resumes with back-to-back races in Russia (September 24-26), Singapore (October 1-3) and Japan (October 8-10). Of this triple header, tickets are only on sale for the Russian Grand Prix.
The next triple header sees Formula 1 head to the Americas for three races in three weekends, beginning with the United States Grand Prix at COTA (October 22-24) and followed by the Mexico City Grand Prix (October 29-31) and the Sao Paulo Grand Prix (November 5-7). Tickets are already available in Mexico, where the home support for Sergio Pérez is expected to be even stronger this year now that the Mexican driver is with the leading Red Bull team.
General ticket sales have not yet begun for the final three races of the season; the rescheduled Australian Grand Prix (November 18-21), the brand new Saudi Arabian Grand Prix on a street circuit in Jeddah (December 3-5) and the traditional season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix (December 12).
How will the trackside experience look in 2021?
The trackside experience is likely to be heavily compromised in the first half of the season, though a return to some kind of normality is possible later this year. As well as the requirement to be temperature tested at the gate, wear a mask at all times within the circuit and observe social distancing, it’s likely that many trackside activities such as pit lane walks and driver autograph sessions will not take place. We also don’t expect there will be any access to the Paddock for corporate or hospitality guests until at least the Belgian Grand Prix in late August.
Some races in the early part of the season also have heavily reduced ticket offers, with tickets for many popular grandstands and General Admission areas not available. Access within the circuit is also expected to be restricted, preventing you from checking out different vantage points away from your nominated seat.
How can I protect myself when planning a Formula 1 trip in 2021?
We’d normally recommend planning your trip as early as possible to take advantage of early-bird ticket deals and secure the best local accommodation, but it seems prudent to adopt a wait-and-see approach this year given the continuing uncertainty over exactly when life will return to a ‘new normal’ after COVID-19. If you do decide to plan an F1 trip (especially during the first half of the season), we recommend making sure your reservations for tickets, accommodation and flights are flexible or fully refundable in the event that local regulations change, or the race is postponed/cancelled.
Before you do go ahead and start booking your trip to a race, we also recommend checking official government websites from your own country and the country where you are planning to travel, as different regulations around vaccination, testing and quarantine currently apply.
Attending a race in your home country (if you are lucky to have one) will be the safest way to see Formula 1 in 2021. Driving rather than flying to a race (e.g., across open borders in Europe or from the USA to Canada) is another way you can both stay safe and more in control of your travel plans.
We recommend booking your race tickets from our partners, Grand Prix Tickets, who source directly from the race promoters and clearly state refund and rebooking conditions.
We also work closely with F1 Experiences, the Official Experience, Hospitality & Travel Programme of Formula 1. Official Ticket Packages are now available for the majority of races this year (even for many of the races we’ve indicated above where general ticket sales have not yet started) and F1 Experiences offers a 100% transfer guarantee and refundable booking options for additional peace of mind.
Our accommodation partner Booking.com also offers free cancellation on most bookings, which is an option definitely worth taking up in 2021.