After its heavily-disrupted 2020, the World Rally Championship is desperately hoping for a smoother 2021 – but the COVID-19 situation is already raising question marks over its first two rounds, as David Evans explains.
Nobody – or very few people – love the Monte Carlo Rally as much as Sébastien Ogier. Brought up in the middle of the route, nobody had won it more times than he has. Which is why the Frenchman’s concerns over next month’s season opener are so heart-felt.
As a seven-time winner, one more Monte victory would make Ogier’s unparalleled success in the mountains undisputed; Sébastien Loeb sits on seven too.
But will he get the chance?
The organizers of the opening round of the 2021 World Rally Championship are running through myriad route changes in an attempt to accommodate new France-wide COVID-19 regulations expected from December 15.
“It’s possible we could be in the middle of the third wave. [If we are] Then I believe the chance that Monte is happening are also not that big,” said Ogier.
“The only good thing I would say, is that we can see in our calendar right now, there will only be two rallies at the beginning of the year and then quite a long break before it restarts. And maybe that gives us the chance that the situation gets a bit better.”
The Automobile Club de Monaco is expected to confirm a route and service park closed to the public. The itinerary will be overhauled significantly to ensure the expected eight o’clock curfew isn’t breached each evening.
DirtFish understands these changes, along with the potential for the loss of the traditional Gap shakedown stage, could come following a meeting with the regional governments at the end of last week.
Ogier’s concerns are more fundamental.
“In the latest prediction, it’s definitely expected that after all the Christmas, and new year celebrations – when you will never be able to completely control the people – it will again start a new wave, from what I understood,” Ogier told DirtFish.
The Monte Carlo Rally is still widely expected to be able to deal with the restrictions and put a rally on.
The bigger questions looming is for round two, Rally Sweden. With the Swedish government reportedly looking into more draconian lockdown restrictions on households and mass gatherings, it’s looking less and less likely the event will run.
Rally Sweden’s business case is based around significant ticket sales and without the potential for accommodating thousands of fans, running in February could make that financial model untenable. The event is already reeling from running in a shortened form 12 months ago, when the absence of winter weather forced the organizers to cut stages, restricting revenue.
After a day of meetings with the regional governments involved, Rally Sweden CEO Glenn Olsson said: “We are waiting for an official decision – hopefully this will come no later than Tuesday.”
WRC Promoter and the FIA are moving into the 2021 season better prepared for dealing with coronavirus and the possible fall-out in calendar terms.
To that end, reserve 2021 events in Turkey, Latvia, Belgium, Argentina, Greece and Italy (Rally Monza) have been lined up as potential replacements.
In addition to that DirtFish understands the organizers of the Arctic Rally (January 14-16) are standby for their Rovaniemi-based event to make its debut in the world championship.
The initial 2021 WRC calendar has a 10-week gap following Sweden’s proposed February date before Rally Croatia (April 22-25).