The 2020 season of Formula One was originally planned to be a record-setting 22 races long. Obviously the global coronavirus pandemic had other plans, and the current schedule was reduced to 17 events late in the year in Europe or the Middle East. All flyaway events in Japan, Australia, and the Americas were cancelled for simplicity and safety. F1 has a plan to blow that short season out of the water, having delivered a schedule to teams for 2021 that will mean the longest and difficult season in the history of the sport.
All 22 of the originally-planned 2020 races make a re-appearance. That list, in case you’ve forgotten, includes Grands Prix in Australia, Bahrain, Vietnam, China, the Netherlands, Spain, Monaco, Azerbaijan, Canada, France, Austria, Great Britain, Hungary, Belgium, Italy, Singapore, Russia, Japan, the United States, Mexico, Brazil, and Abu Dhabi.
The series is working on a new race in Saudi Arabia, a street circuit in Diriyah. The country has already hosted a Formula E event since 2018. The event in Jeddah benefits from ties between F1 and Saudi petroleum giant Aramco as one of the sport’s major commercial partners.
It is this particular race which has brought the attention of Amnesty International to laser its focus in on F1. The human rights organization has long been a vocal opponent of the Saudi crown’s “sportswashing” campaign of the country. The Saudi Public Investment Fund, which owns Aramco, has recently invested billions of dollars in companies hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic, including a $418 million stake in F1's sister company, ticketing giant Live Nation.
In a statement released by the organization, it urged F1 to reconsider the event.
“Formula 1 should realise that a Saudi Grand Prix in 2021 would be part of ongoing efforts to sportswash the country’s abysmal human rights record,” said Felix Jakens, Amnesty International UK’s head of campaigns.
“The failed attempt to buy Newcastle United obviously hasn’t deterred the Saudi authorities, who apparently still see elite-level sport as a means of rebranding their severely tarnished reputation.
“Despite the fanfare over Saudi women finally being allowed to drive a car without being arrested, the authorities have recently locked up and tortured several leading women’s rights activists - including Loujain al-Hathloul and Nassima al-Sada.
“If a Saudi Grand Prix goes ahead, at the very least F1 should insist that all contracts contain stringent labour standards across all supply chains, and that all race events are open to everyone without discrimination.
“In the lead-up to a race in Jeddah, we would urge all F1 drivers, owners and teams to consider speaking out about the human rights situation in the country, including by expressing solidarity with jailed human rights defenders.”
The Brazilian Grand Prix is also being met with consternation, though for different reasons. The old Autódromo José Carlos Pace circuit in Interlagos, São Paulo is probably not going to play host to the series anymore, if F1 has anything to say about it. In early 2019 Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro announced that the Brazilian Grand Prix would return to Rio de Janeiro for the first time since 1989.
The problem comes in finding a place to race. The old Rio circuit at Jacarepaguá was destroyed to make room for a 2016 Summer Olympics. The plan is for a new circuit to be built in the Deodoro neighborhood of Rio, but this would involve razing a section of rainforest. For obvious reasons, destruction of the rainforest is met with some deserved opposition.
If both of these events go forward despite opposition, which it seems they may well do, F1 will achieve a record 23 race calendar. It would also mean three brand new circuits join the calendar, as the recently-completed Zandvoort revamp has yet to be raced on.
According to the newly-signed Concorde agreement, F1 can run as many as 25 events in a season and it would be okay with the teams. That’s an insane amount of F1 races. The season begins in March and is planned for a late November completion, giving the sport fewer than 42 weekends to fit in a race every other weekend, plus all that travel!