The cancellation of the Russian Grand Prix and the termination of the F1 contract with ANO Rosgonki, which has shareholders including the state-owned VTB Bank, the government, the Center Omega and the Russian auto sport federation, means that not only will there be no race in Sochi in 2022, but the plan to move the race to Autodrom Igora Drive near Saint Petersburg in 2023, with an initial deal in place until at least 2025, is also dead and gone. It is the price that Russia has to pay for going to war in Ukraine, as even if F1 was willing to accept money from Russia, the fees that the Russians would have to pay would be appreciably higher than in the past because of the Rouble-Dollar exchange rate, and there would have been a danger of F1 doing itself serious (and material) damage by the association. Money makes the world go round, and losing a little is better than risking losing a lot.
This means that there is a gap on the calendar on September 25 and F1 will obviously want to fill this with another event. It is a little bit complicated by the timing as no-one wants a calendar reshuffle at the moment because of all the rebooking that would be necessary.
The other restriction is more mundane. The race in Russia was going to be the first leg of an intercontinental triple-header, with the Sochi race followed in quick succession by Singapore (on October 2) and Japan (on October 9). It meant that there is no available time to switch the F1 circus from its trucks, which are used in European events, to the travel boxes that are used for the freight for flyaway races. It would be impossible to do this if a replacement race was in Europe. Thus there is no chance for Turkey or Germany to step in, because both used trucks, rather than travel boxes.
Given this important practical element, the F1 group’s choice of venue was limited. In a perfect world, a replacement race would be on its way from Europe to Singapore, as Sochi was, so that freight could leave Russia on Monday and be in Singapore on Tuesday to give the teams time to get ready for the following weekend.
When you look at map it is fairly clear that there is no obvious venue, except in the Middle East. It is not the moment to be trying out a new Grand Prix at a venue where no-one knows what will work and what will not work. The problem in the Middle East is that we already have races planned for Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi. Qatar, which hosted a race last year at the Losail International circuit, near Doha, was not included on the calendar this year because of the FIFA World Cup, which takes place in Qatar between November 21 and December 18. Thus it made no sense for Qatar to have a race at that time of year, as happened last year when the first Qatar Grand Prix took place on November 21.
So everyone forgot about Losail for 2022 and looked ahead to 2023 when there is supposed to be a new street circuit, along similar lines to the Jeddah City Circuit, in the downtown area of Doha.
But could a race in late September be a possibility? It makes sense for Formula 1 and it make sense for Qatar, as it will add to the build-up for the World Cup and would continue to build up the associations with Qatar and global sports. The Losail track was designed for motorbikes and there were a few drawbacks for F1 in 2021, but there was nothing that made it impossible – and that would be true again this year.
Thus it may be wise to conclude that F1 will be going back to Doha. Money is not really a question as Qatar has plenty of it and so it is really just a matter of the two parties getting together and building on the relationship that began last year and is due to continue for at last the next 10 years.
In the longer term, Qatar can move back to a date in late November, while the gap created by the disappearance of the Russian GP can be very neatly filled if F1 can get its deal signed off with Las Vegas, which is believed to be just a few weeks away from an announcement of a street race in the city in 2023.
So Russia’s loss could well be the USA’s gain.