Written by Jacob Awcock, Edited by Hugh W
Since the COVID-19 pandemic there have been many what if’s in Formula One, ranging from teams and drivers to circuits and circuit contracts. But there is no greater what if than in Vietnam where Formula One should have and would have made a huge impact had it not been for COVID and a sprinkling of politics.
It has and still is a big aim for Formula One to expand its viewing numbers in Asia, and in 2018 the start of this expansion project was confirmed with the introduction of a race in Vietnam. Vietnam had always been a target of Formula One while under Bernie Ecclestone’s ownership but only came into fruition when Liberty Media took over and arranged a contract for the Vietnamese Grand Prix to be held around the streets of Hanoi.
A 3.484 mile circuit with 23 corners winding their way through the capital city 55 times. It would also feature one of the longest straights on the calendar at the time stretching at 1.5 km and leading them into the tight and twisty final sector. The circuit had been designed by famous circuit designer, Hermann Tilke, who had designed other Formula One circuits such as Circuit Of The Americas and Abu Dhabi.
The circuit aimed to incorporate several other existing race circuits with sections of the track being inspired by Monaco and the Nürburgring. The circuit was to be split in half with half of it being a permanent facility, including the pit garages and hospitality complex, and the other half being used as a road for public use. Everything seemed set and ready for the race in April 2020, grandstands were being built and tickets had been sold. Yet no one could have predicted the chaos that was set to ensue shortly.
Everything began to unfold in December 2019 when the Coronavirus pandemic became a serious issue in China; Formula One however continued with pre-season testing in February as the pandemic became a much greater global issue with now almost the whole world experiencing a surge in cases.
As pre-season drew to a close Formula One announced that they wouldn't race in China for that season due to the ongoing issue there regarding Covid. The season would eventually not get started at all, despite the whole F1 paddock arriving in Australia for the first race. However, the main issue for Vietnam would arise during the coronavirus pandemic and would involve Hanoi’s chairman Ngugen Duc Chung.
Ngugen had always been a Formula One fan and spearheaded the initial charge for a race to be held in Vietnam yet he would be the one that would cause the eventual downfall of the Vietnam Grand Prix.
In August 2020, Ngugen was arrested and was sentenced to five years in jail. With the main factor for the race being held in Vietnam, enthusiasm surrounding the project began to die out. A lack of motorsport history fueled by a lack of financial backing surrounding the programme, eventually fell out of the minds of the Vietnamese.
As F1 and the world exited the Coronavirus pandemic, focus began to shift back to the circuits that hadn't held a race in the previous year regaining their spot on the calendar, amid increased competition after multiple new circuits were introduced to cover for the gaps created. Yet Vietnam had problems of their own.
The circuit had been produced with a racing enthusiast fueling the production of it. Now that had been removed people were much less enthusiastic about the whole project and, in order to keep the race going, maintenance had to be funded as well as many other aspects involved when owning and running a race circuit.
With a lack of motorsport history, lack of enthusiasm and an overall lack of interest the Vietnamese government decided against hosting the Grand Prix again simply because they could not guarantee that there would be enough crowds to fund for the maintenance of the circuit into the future.
Nowadays, Vietnam still hasn't held a Formula One race and looks set not to for the foreseeable future. The circuit still exists today yet has fallen into disrepair due to the government’s lack of commitment.
With several years still left on Ngugen’s prison sentence as well as his reputation being destroyed as a result it looks unlikely that Vietnam will ever hold a race in the future with the country, and Asia still remaining an untouched gold mine for Formula One. A sad end to such a promising project.