The History of F1's Cancelled Grands Prix
Written by Hugh Waring, Edited by Meghana Sree
Scheduled to take place at the iconic Imola circuit, the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix was recently cancelled just two days before the scheduled race when tragedy struck as widespread flooding wreaked havoc across the Italian region. The devastating natural disaster left roads closed and emergency services pushed to their limits, ultimately giving Formula 1 no choice but to call off the event. Although this year's cancellation comes as a disappointment, it is not a novel occurrence in the history of this motorsport.
Imola, known for its rich motorsport heritage and passionate fans, experienced unprecedented levels of flooding that had a severe impact on the region's infrastructure and emergency response capabilities. The torrential rains and rising waters not only posed a threat to human life but also rendered roads impassable, making it difficult for teams, officials, and spectators to safely reach the Imola circuit.
With emergency services focused on saving lives and aiding affected areas, the priority shifted away from hosting the grand prix. The decision to cancel the race was made in recognition of this dire situation and the need to prioritise the well-being and safety of everyone involved.
However, the cancellation of the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix is not an isolated incident in the world of F1. Throughout its storied history, the sport has faced numerous challenges, including adverse weather conditions, political unrest, logistical issues, and global pandemics, resulting in the cancellation or postponement of races.
Grands Prix of France, Switzerland, Spain, and Germany 1955: The Le Mans Disaster
In June 1955, the motorsport world was shaken by a tragic event known as the Le Mans disaster. During the iconic 24 Hours of Le Mans race, a catastrophic accident occurred that resulted in the loss of 80 spectators' lives and the death of driver Pierre Levegh.
The accident unfolded when Levegh's car made contact with Lance Macklin's vehicle, causing Levegh's car to somersault into a grandstand. The collision was triggered by Macklin's attempt to avoid the Jaguar of Mike Hawthorn, which was entering the pits. The impact caused debris to fly into the crowd, leading to devastating consequences.
In the aftermath of this horrific incident, a wave of shock and mourning swept through the motorsport community. As a response to the tragedy, the French, Swiss, Spanish, and German grands prix were all cancelled. The 1955 season was significantly shortened to accommodate the mourning period and allowed Juan Manuel Fangio to secure his third championship title for Mercedes.
Belgian and Dutch Grands Prix 1957: Cancellations and the Birth of the Pescara Grand Prix
The 1957 Formula One season witnessed a fascinating turn of events with the cancellation of the Belgian and Dutch Grands Prix due to economic difficulties and disputes over reduced starting money. However, out of the ashes of these cancellations emerged a new race in Pescara, Italy. The Pescara Grand Prix, held on a challenging and scenic road circuit, not only filled the void in the championship calendar but also created a new chapter in Formula One history.
In 1956, the Suez Crisis unfolded, leading to petrol rationing and economic challenges across Europe. Consequently, the Belgian and Dutch Grands Prix organisers, held at the iconic Spa-Francorchamps and Zandvoort circuits respectively, asked teams to accept lower starting money to alleviate financial strain. However, the teams strongly opposed this request, resulting in the cancellation of both races at the last minute and leaving the championship calendar depleted.
With two races abruptly cancelled and a thinning championship calendar, Formula One's governing body searched for alternative venues to fill the void giving birth to the Pescara Grand Prix.
Belgian Grand Prix 1969: Safety Concerns
The Belgian Grand Prix held at the iconic Spa-Francorchamps circuit has long been revered as one of the most challenging and beloved tracks in Formula One. However, in 1969, concerns about safety reached a tipping point, prompting demands for changes from drivers, led by Jackie Stewart. Despite their efforts, safety improvements were not implemented, resulting in the cancellation of the race and ultimately spelling the end of an era for the historic Spa circuit.
By the late 1960s, safety concerns became increasingly prominent within the Grand Prix Drivers' Association (GPDA), a group formed to address the welfare of drivers and improve safety standards in Formula One. Ahead of the 1969 Belgian Grand Prix, Jackie Stewart, a prominent figure within the GPDA, raised concerns about the safety of the Spa-Francorchamps circuit, urging the implementation of necessary changes to enhance driver safety.
Despite the urgency conveyed by the drivers, the requested safety modifications were not implemented. Officials cited short notice and bureaucratic difficulties, while factional Belgian motor racing politics likely contributed to the impasse. The circuit owners, who held significant control, underestimated the determination and resolve of the drivers. Consequently, the GPDA decided to withdraw the drivers' labour, effectively cancelling the 1969 Belgian Grand Prix.
USA Grand Prix 1981: Financing Issues
Initially planned for 4th October 1981, the USA Grand Prix was unfortunately cancelled due to financial challenges faced by Watkins Glen International. The iconic race circuit in Watkins Glen, New York, encountered financial difficulties, and so they were unable to proceed with the race as scheduled.
New York Grand Prix 1983-85: Unfulfilled Ambitions
The allure of hosting a Formula One race in the United States is undeniable, and among the various dream locations, a race in the vibrant city of New York stands as the ultimate goal. However, despite the clear appeal, Formula One has faced numerous obstacles in establishing a successful race in the Big Apple. Over the years, several attempts were made to bring the New York Grand Prix to fruition, but they remained unrealized dreams. One notable instance occurred from 1983 to 1985 when the race came tantalisingly close to being included on the Formula One calendar.
In late 1982, Formula One impresario Bernie Ecclestone and local organisers unveiled ambitious plans for a New York Grand Prix to be held on September 25, 1983. The project's leader promised a race that would combine the elegance and charm of Monte Carlo with a distinct New York atmosphere. Flushing Meadows Park, renowned for hosting the US Open tennis tournament, was selected as the proposed venue.
However, despite the initial enthusiasm, the proposed New York Grand Prix faced a series of setbacks. Environmental protests, legal threats, and difficulties in securing sponsorships and television commitments created significant challenges. By June 1983, the plan was shelved for at least a year, casting doubt on the race's future.
Belgian Grand Prix 1985: A Race Cancelled Mid-Weekend
The 1985 Belgian Grand Prix at the historic Spa-Francorchamps circuit stands out as a unique event in Formula One history. It is the only championship race to have been completely cancelled after the weekend had already commenced, although technically it was postponed to a later date. The decision to cancel the race came after a series of challenges arising from a newly resurfaced track that proved inadequate for competition.
In early June of 1985, teams and drivers arrived at Spa for the Belgian Grand Prix only to discover that the track had recently undergone resurfacing. The new surface was intended to provide better grip in wet conditions, a common occurrence in the region. However, the organisers failed to disclose that the resurfacing had been completed a mere 14 days before the practice was set to begin.
During Friday's practice sessions, parts of the track began to break up. However, drivers managed to navigate around the worst patches and adapted to the conditions. The real trouble emerged after overnight "repairs" were attempted. When Saturday's practice session commenced, it quickly became apparent that the track conditions had significantly deteriorated. Cars were lapping around 25 seconds slower than their Friday pace.
Upon inspection, it was revealed that the contractors responsible for the resurfacing had applied new tarmac over the entire width of the road, including sections that did not require resurfacing. As a result, the new tarmac had not been set properly, leading to an unsafe and unpredictable racing surface.
Following discussions and deliberations, FISA (Fédération Internationale du Sport Automobile) made the difficult decision to call off the race on that Saturday evening. The organisers were fined for their failure to provide a suitable track surface for the competition.
Ultimately, the Belgian Grand Prix was rescheduled and held that September, allowing teams and drivers to return to Spa-Francorchamps to complete the race under improved track conditions.
Portuguese Grand Prix 1997: Safety and Finance Issues
Originally scheduled for 26th October, the race was initially called off by the FIA due to the circuit owners' reluctance to undertake safety improvements requested by the governing body. As a result, the FIA reassigned the race date to the European Grand Prix, which was held in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain.
In a bid to salvage the Portuguese Grand Prix, the Portuguese government took decisive action by acquiring a controlling interest in the race track and allocating $5 million for the necessary safety upgrades. The FIA expressed its willingness to reconsider adding an 18th Grand Prix to the calendar if the required work could be completed and all the teams agreed. However, both Ferrari and McLaren refused to participate in another race, effectively quashing the idea and leading to its cancellation.
Chinese and Argentine Grands Prix 1999: Failure to Meet Standards and Finance Issues
The Zhuhai International Circuit was constructed in the city of Zhuhai in Guangdong Province, southern China. The track was completed in 1996, raising hopes for a potential Formula 1 race in the country.
In 1999, there were provisional plans to include a Chinese Grand Prix on the Formula 1 World Championship calendar. Unfortunately, the track did not fulfil the FIA standards and had to be called off. The inclusion of the race would have marked a significant milestone for China and would have signalled its entry into the world of premier motorsport.
Regarding a potential Argentine Grand Prix as a replacement for the cancelled Chinese one, the race organisers were unable to reach a financial agreement with Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone, therefore leading to the cancellation of this event as well.
Bahrain Grand Prix 2011: Politics Overshadowing Motorsport
In the world of sports, the notion that politics and sports should remain independent is often emphasised. However, this principle is challenged when races are organised and financially supported by governments to showcase their countries on an international stage. The 2011 Bahrain Grand Prix serves as an apt example of how political unrest can overshadow and disrupt a Formula One event.
Scheduled to open the 2011 Formula One season on March 13, the Bahrain Grand Prix faced significant turmoil when anti-government protests and uprisings, collectively known as the Arab Spring, reached the country. The Arab Spring was a wave of pro-democracy movements and civil unrest that swept across several North African and Middle Eastern nations.
As the protests intensified, clashes between demonstrators and security forces ensued. Tragically, several protesters lost their lives, and reports emerged that paramedics were being prevented from reaching the injured. The attention of the international community turned towards Bahrain, and the Formula One event became a focal point for protesters to highlight their grievances.
Amid mounting unrest, Nabeel Rajab, the vice president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, emphasised that protesters would exploit the international spotlight that the Formula One event would bring. With the situation becoming increasingly volatile, the crown prince of Bahrain, Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, ultimately made the difficult decision to cancel the race.
Australian Grand Prix 2020: COVID-19 Crisis
The 2020 Australian Grand Prix will forever be remembered as the race that never took place. As the COVID-19 pandemic rapidly unfolded, the Formula One season opener in Melbourne became a microcosm of the challenges faced by the global sporting community. Despite initial intentions to proceed with minimal restrictions, the escalating situation forced the event's cancellation, marking the beginning of an uncertain hiatus for the sport.
As Formula One arrived in Melbourne in early March 2020, the world was still grappling with the emerging COVID-19 crisis. The Chinese Grand Prix had already been cancelled due to the outbreak, but F1 was determined to forge ahead with its schedule. However, the decision to proceed without stringent measures drew criticism from some, including reigning champion Lewis Hamilton, who expressed shock and criticised the focus on financial considerations.
The situation took a drastic turn when a member of the McLaren team tested positive for COVID-19, leading to several other paddock members showing symptoms and self-isolating.
The news broke on the Thursday before practice, triggering a late-night meeting among all the teams. Despite reliable leaks suggesting an imminent cancellation, the official announcement from Formula One did not materialise at the end of the meeting, leaving fans and teams in a state of uncertainty.
As dawn broke on Friday, it became apparent that the race was unlikely to proceed. High-profile drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Räikkönen had already left Melbourne, and Renault chose not to participate. However, without an official confirmation, eager spectators started queuing at the gates, hoping for a chance to witness a race.
The Australian Grand Prix was also cancelled in 2021 for the same reasons.
Other COVID-19 Cancellations:
Vietnamese Grand Prix 2020
The inaugural Vietnamese Grand Prix, scheduled to be held on the Hanoi Street Circuit, was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The race was intended to be a historic moment for Formula One, marking the first-ever Vietnamese Grand Prix. It was further abandoned due to the city's mayor Nguyen Duc Chung, a supporter of the Grand Prix eventually being arrested and sentenced to 10 years in jail following multiple corruption charges.
Chinese Grand Prix 2020 - 2023
This race was cancelled due to ongoing challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Restrictions made it impossible to hold an event owing to the zero-covid policy made by the Chinese government.
Dutch Grand Prix 2020
Monaco Grand Prix 2020
One of the most prestigious races on the Formula One calendar, the Monaco Grand Prix was cancelled for the first time since 1954. The narrow streets and logistical challenges associated with organising the event were key factors in its cancellation.
Azerbaijan Grand Prix 2020
Canadian Grand Prix 2020/2021
French Grand Prix 2020
Singapore Grand Prix 2020/2021
Known for its iconic night race, it was cancelled in 2020. The organisers cited ongoing safety and logistic concerns, as well as the inability to host the event without compromising public health.
Japanese Grand Prix 2020/2021
To be held at the Suzuka Circuit, it was called off due to the travel restrictions and challenges posed by the pandemic. It marked the first time since 1986 that the race was not held.
United States Grand Prix 2020
Scheduled to take place at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, it was initially postponed and later cancelled due to the pandemic and travel restrictions.
Mexican Grand Prix 2020
Brazil Grand Prix 2020
Russian Grand Prix 2022: Invasion of Ukraine
In response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Formula 1 has announced the termination of the contract for the Russian Grand Prix. The decision means that there will be no future races in Russia, and the planned shift from Sochi to St Petersburg in 2023 will not take place. The contract for the Russian Grand Prix was initially set to run until 2025.