So, what now?
As the World Rally Championship departed Mexico a day early, there was the bizarre moment as farewells were made.
“So, see you in Arg… ah, no. Portu… hmm, maybe not. Sardi… not a chance.
“OK, so, see you.”
Dramatic as it might sound, nobody knows when anybody will see anybody again. The postponement of Argentina is the only thing confirmed in the WRC. Right now, that we know we won’t be travelling to round four is all we do know.
The decision not to travel to Villa Carlos Paz came on Friday afternoon and was greeted with a deep sense of irony. How was it that the fourth WRC round of the season – the one coming six weeks on from this weekend – had been postponed? While Mexico remained in denial of a valid reason for cancelling the here and now.
Moving past Argentina would bring the WRC back to Europe for Rally Portugal in the penultimate week of May. Portugal’s main issue right now is the high number of cases in the Porto area. Even if it were possible to change the route (which it’s not when it’s already been signed off by the FIA), what would be the point? There’s no outrunning the coronavirus, even in 380hp World Rally Cars.
Rally Sardinia’s issues are, perhaps, a bit more obvious. The fact that the June 4-7 event is based on the Italian island doesn’t offer much comfort, given that the vast majority of folk travel to the event through the country’s mainland.
The Safari Rally, scheduled for a July 16 start, is next up (following what was proposed as the WRC’s summer break) and, right on cue, cases have started being reported in Africa.
Interestingly, there was plenty of speculation in Mexico that a potential Safari demise could offer a new date for Argentina with Africa being swapped for a delayed South America. Those rumours were further fuelled by the issues raised by DirtFish in an interview with Safari’s event CEO Phineas Kimathi – namely cashflow and security – last month.
But, again, who knows? I’ll answer that one for you: nobody knows. Nobody 100% knows about the future and spread of coronavirus. But lots of folk who look and sound like they know what they’re talking about tell us it’s likely COVID-19 is still in the development stage, especially where Africa, the Americas and much of Europe is concerned.
An awful lot of rallies are going to be cancelled in the coming weeks and months, which raises significant concerns for those employed in this industry, beyond those working on the rallies themselves. Preparation firms of all sizes, right from world champions like M-Sport down to one-man bands will come under huge pressure. Once a car’s stripped and re-prepared, there’s not much more needed doing until it goes out to play again. And who’s buying cars right now?
This thing’s not going to last forever, of course it’s not, but it’s probably fair to say it’s going to get worse before it gets better.
One thing which last week’s debacle in Mexico definitely highlighted is the need for change in the process of cancelling a WRC round.
The FIA came under fire for not making the decision sooner, but few knew that the governing body of world motorsport only had an individual input into such a pronouncement – in the same way the teams and WRC Promoter could only voice an opinion. The move itself could only be made by the event organizer locally.
What the FIA could do is withdraw the potential for scoring WRC points on a round of the championship – we saw this at a much lower level when Rally Costa Brava was stripped of its FIA European Historic Sporting Rally Championship status for not allowing Italian crews and teams to compete on its Girona-based route.
Think of a WRC round as a game of tennis: the local organizer provides the court, the teams bring the players and racquets, but the ball belongs to the FIA.
If the FIA takes the ball away and withdraws points, the teams won’t bother going on court. All of that could have been done in Mexico, but in a case where there’s such obvious global concern – from both a virus-spreading and logistical duty of care perspective – it’s an oddly cumbersome and inelegant process for such an apparently powerful authority.
So, returning to the original question of what now?
All we can suggest is staying tuned to DirtFish.com. We’ll keep you updated on developments around the world, once light is spotted on the tunnel’s far side.
But, while we’re in the tunnel, we’re planning plenty of content to keep you entertained in the coming weeks.