PARIS – The iconic Monaco Grand Prix was canceled on Thursday because of the spread of COVID-19, and two other Formula One races were postponed.
The showcase F1 race was scheduled for May 24 in the tiny principality on the Mediterranean coast between France and Italy.
First it was postponed, along with races in the Netherlands and Spain, before being scrapped altogether for 2020 just hours later.
A race has been held every year since 1955 on Monaco’s sinewy street circuit, amid a backdrop of yachts, the simmering blue water of the famed harbor and the clinking Champagne glasses of the rich and famous.
The Automobile Club de Monaco said in a statement Thursday evening that “the situation is no longer tenable” for hosting the race and that it could not be rescheduled.
The Dutch GP was set to return to its re-vamped Zandvoort track outside Amsterdam to host an F1 race on May 3, for the first time since the late Niki Lauda won there in 1985. Spain had been set to follow on May 10.
Because of the latest postponements, the F1 season won’t be able to get underway until June 7 at the Azerbaijan GP.
Governing body FIA said the season would begin “as soon as it is safe to do so.”
Formula One and the FIA said they were taking these decisions “in order to ensure the health and safety of the traveling staff, championship participants and fans, which remains our primary concern.”
For most people, the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as a fever and a cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness including pneumonia. Most people recover.
The season-opening Australian GP in Melbourne was called off only hours before it was due to start last Friday. The Bahrain GP, scheduled to start on Friday without fans, and the inaugural Vietnam GP, on April 5, were then quickly called off. The Chinese GP in Shanghai on April 19 was postponed in February.
The midseason break has been moved from August to March and April, and extended from 14 to 21 consecutive days. Teams can choose the 21-day period in which they will cease activities, to allow more flexibility in rearranging races.
Also Thursday, the FIA, F1 and the 10 teams unanimously agreed to postpone the implementation of rule changes planned for 2021 until 2022. Because of the precarious financial situation, teams will save on costs by using this year’s car chassis in 2021.
Following Azerbaijan is Canada on June 14, France on June 28 and then Austria on July 5.
F1 chief executive Chase Carey said there would be a “need for extra flexibility to accommodate a rescheduled season once the COVID-19 situation improves.”
He said F1 and the FIA are working toward a revised calendar in consultation with the teams.
“This will give us the necessary flexibility to agree (to) revised timings with affected race promoters and to be ready to start racing at the right moment,” Carey said in a statement on F1’s website. “We are all very grateful for the collaborative nature of the discussions, and fully united approach from all parties to get racing in 2020 as soon as the current global situation subsides.”
The season is scheduled to end with the Abu Dhabi GP on Nov. 29, but could be extended to fit in some postponed races.
A total of eight races with 12 cars must be completed for the championship to be validated, FIA said.