Why Vietnam cancelled a race that was not going to happen

Jonathan Noble

After all, for several months now, F1's definitive 17-race 2020 calendar had been set in stone and there had not seemed to be anywhere for Vietnam to get slotted in.

So why did officials announce that they were calling off a race that was not going to happen anyway?

What can be instantly dismissed is that this was about Vietnamese race organisers holding out in hope of getting a late reprieve, and only now having to give up on their dream.

Sources are clear that agreement was reached weeks ago that the race would not be taking place this year, so the focus had already shifted to 2021.

Instead, the matter simply goes back to the processes that have been in play since the F1 season got impacted so heavily by coronavirus back in the spring.

The inaugural Vietnam GP had been due to take place in April on a new circuit built in the suburbs of Hanoi.

While doubts about its viability increased at the start of the year as the coronavirus pandemic grew, as late as March, F1 chiefs and race organisers remained convinced it could still go ahead.

However, just days after the season-opening Australian Grand Prix was abandoned, the FIA and FOM announced that the Vietnamese GP was being 'postponed.'

At the time, it was hoped that the pandemic would be under control enough later in the year for the Vietnamese race to be slotted in at some point.

In July, as the F1 season got underway in Austria, government officials in Hanoi said they remained hopeful that the GP could still take place in 2020 – perhaps with a late November slot.

However, with F1 understanding the challenges of putting grands prix on in the COVID-19 era, the calendar focus remained more on races that it knew could be delivered. This meant a major push for European events.

Uncertainties about the developing coronavirus situation in the Americas and Asia meant F1 steered clear of wanting to go there.

Only the events in the controlled environments of Bahrain and Abu Dhabi were deemed realistic enough for the sport to risk a proper flyaway.

By August, a number of events that had been effectively 'postponed' earlier in the year were now officially off – and attention shifted more to trying to sort out an effective plan for 2021.

In such cases, and to ensure F1 did not risk being in breach of its own race contracts, promoters made the calls themselves to give up on 2020 after consultation with F1 chiefs.

As F1 announced in June when a number of races were called off, the wording was clear about whose responsibility it was when events were abandoned.

A statement said at the time: "Our promoters in Azerbaijan, Singapore and Japan have taken the decision to cancel their races for the 2020 season."

When F1 announced its final version of the 2020 calendar, with the season finishing off with the double-header in Bahrain and the season finale in Abu Dhabi, Vietnam was notably absent but had not joined others in formally cancelling.

However, it is understood that while the race organisers had decided and accepted that the event could not take place this year, the matter still needed signing off formally by the local government authorities.

After all, the debut of the Vietnamese Grand Prix has needed full support from the Hanoi government and officials had to be involved in all major decision. In effect, the final approval to cancel the 2020 event had to come from the top level of government itself.

So amid the fact that the complexities of hosting an F1 race were a new adventure for the officials, allied to Vietnamese bureaucracy not always being so agile in moving at speed, the important final box tick simply took time.

In the end, with the government finally signing off on the plan to delay the event until 2021, it was felt better to announce it rather than simply brush the matter under the carpet.

The focus now is very much on making sure the race can take place next year, with the venue having neared completion this year prior to its being initially called off.

And while the recent FIA World Motor Sport Council did not release an initial draft of the 2021 F1 calendar, as would normally be expected, the sport's chiefs are hoping for a more 'normal' schedule.

F1's outgoing CEO Chase Carey said recently: "We are planning a 2021 season that looks pretty much like what we would have expected it to look like at the beginning of this year.

"And then obviously, we qualify that with we don't have any better visibility than anybody else as to what this virus is going to look like as we go forward."

Vietnam, however, remains very much central to F1's 2021 plans.