Formula 1: Chinese GP to be cancelled again due to Covid, Ferraris fastest at post-season test

F1 chief executive officer Stefano Domenicali said that talks with authorities to move the Azerbaijan event forward a week have met resistance. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON – The Chinese Grand Prix is set to be dropped from the Formula One calendar for the fourth consecutive year due to Covid-19 policies.

The race in Shanghai was cancelled in 2020 and 2021 due to the global pandemic. It was slated to return this year, but China continued to struggle with virus transmissions and the race was replaced by the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at Imola in Italy.

F1 included a mid-April date for Shanghai when the 2023 schedule was released in September, but China is again coping with a surge in Covid cases. The BBC reported on Tuesday that F1 decided the race cannot go forward due to the country’s “zero-Covid” policy.

The primary sticking point is that F1 staff would not be provided exemptions from quarantine requirements. That means anyone who tested positive would be subject to being detained in the country for several days.

China’s current policy requires anyone who tests positive for Covid-19 to spend five days at an isolation centre followed by three days of isolation at home.

F1 will not look to replace the event this time, reducing the 2023 schedule to 23 events, according to the report. That would still represent a new high-water mark for races in a calendar year, although it will leave a four-week break between the Australian Grand Prix on April 2 and the Azerbaijan Grand Prix on April 30.

F1 chief executive Stefano Domenicali told the BBC that talks with authorities to move the Azerbaijan event forward a week have met resistance. He also said F1 is in talks to extend the contract of the race, held in Baku, which currently runs through next year.

Meanwhile, Ferrari filled the top three places on the timing screens in F1’s post-season test in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday as the sport looked to the future with grand prix veterans and newcomers alike starting work with new employers.

Carlos Sainz was quickest ahead of teammate Charles Leclerc, with both race regulars taking turns in the one F1-75 car and focusing on Pirelli’s 2023 tyres.

Israeli test driver Robert Shwartzman was third fastest in the other Ferrari and did 116 laps, the equivalent of two grand prix distances.

Spain’s double world champion Fernando Alonso, 41, made his track debut with Aston Martin after leaving Renault-owned Alpine while 35-year-old Nico Hulkenberg began his comeback with United States-owned Haas.

The Spaniard said: “We raced two days ago here, so it’s very fresh and it’s very useful. I tried to meet all the mechanics, the engineers, and I’ll try to remember a lot of new names.”

Australian rookie Oscar Piastri tested for McLaren alongside 2023 teammate Lando Norris while Frenchman Pierre Gasly settled in at Alpine following his move from Red Bull-owned AlphaTauri, who welcomed Dutch driver Nyck de Vries in his place.

“We did a lot of laps and experimented a lot which is exactly what today is all about. I’ve got a good idea where to improve for next year,” said Piastri. “I really enjoyed it, it’s nice to be back out on track finally and experience the 2022 cars.”

Gasly was fourth-fastest, with Red Bull’s double world champion Max Verstappen fifth after taking over the car from teammate Sergio Perez. REUTERS, AFP

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