What next for MotoGP as Coronavirus leaves motorsport in disarray?

As fears over Coronavirus sees the opening two rounds of the 2020 MotoGP season axed, what is next for a sport in increasing disarray?

Start of MotoGP race

It was a scenario Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta insisted wasn’t an issue as recently as three days ago, but such is the fast-changing situation regarding the now worldwide spread of a Coronavirus, even this article could be outdated by tomorrow.

EDIT: And literally just as I write this, the Thailand MotoGP event is confirmed to have been postponed indefinitely. That’s how quickly this situation is changing!

Indeed, those three days ago Visordown reported Ezpeleta was relaxed about the ongoing developments of the pandemic, which has now affected 90,000 people and claimed the lives of more than 3,000. However, at the time we considered whether it was a situation that wasn’t really in Dorna’s hands as force majeure is increasingly enforced to give authorities the ultimate final say.

And so it proved with Dorna, FIM and IRTA forced to cancel the MotoGP race that was to be held in Qatar this weekend. In a fortunate coincidence though, the Moto2 and Moto3 races will go ahead merely because they are already located at Losail for testing and thus not subject to the same quarantine rules being applied by Qatar.

However, no doubt spooked by this latest development, Thailand’s government and health ministry has also intervened to have Round 2 of the season postponed indefinitely too.

Why has Qatar cancelled MotoGP race?

Indeed, the unprecedented move to cancel the Qatar MotoGP isn’t so much about the country trying to contain the virus, more to prevent it from entering. That said, Qatar did record its first case of Covid-19 over the weekend.

The issue for MotoGP stems from the completely unfortunate fact Italy has become one of the most affected countries globally with 1700 cases and 41 deaths as of writing - behind only China and South Korea – to the point where a growing number of nations are imposing travel restrictions on anyone travelling from there.

This includes a 14-day quarantine period on anyone who enters from a flight or otherwise originating in Italy. It was a restriction Qatar imposed over the weekend, meaning any MotoGP team (notably Ducati and Aprilia), rider or team personnel who has been in Italy in the last 14 days wouldn’t be allowed to get far beyond the airport, much less the venue.

More MotoGP events to be cancelled?

That said, there was no mention of Italy in Thailand’s confirmation, with the postponement simply because the government is trying to prevent large gatherings. If anything, this strategy of trying to containing the spread of the virus is a potentially greater threat to MotoGP as it’s essentially a government ban on any large events.

Right now, an increasing number of nations are considering banning events attracting 5,000 or more, including the United Kingdom. Such a ruling – if universally adopted – would be a huge disaster for MotoGP.

These are unchartered territories for motorsport and the forecast going forward doesn’t look great either. The United States also has travel restrictions placed on Italy – though it currently varies according to airline – putting Round 3 at Circuit of the Americas at risk. Argentina has recorded no cases so far, but it’s likely to want to keep it that way.

One solution might be to get all equipment, personnel and riders out of Italy now and en route to the United States to enter quarantine, as the period would have passed by the time the event takes place. Though an extreme measure, with no round in Qatar and Thailand going ahead, it could be necessary if there is any hope of racing taking place any time soon.

Even so, that doesn’t take into account changes in policy globally in the meantime – such as other restrictions or varying quarantine periods - with very different circumstances now compared with only two weeks ago.

What about the WorldSBK Qatar round?

The second round of the WorldSBK Championship is scheduled to take place at Losail just a week after the Qatar MotoGP round.

As it stands, the event is due to go ahead because Qatar has no travel restrictions on Australia – despite its 30 cases and one death – where the teams and riders have been based for almost two weeks already.

However, with a number of Italian personnel either competing or running the sport, they face the choice of heading home in the interim and be unable to leave, or not return back at all.

Similarly, even if racing post-quarantine does eventually go ahead, Ducati and Aprilia – as well as riders – may not be able to return to Italy as long as the travel restrictions remain in place.

What makes matters worse for the sport is it will inevitably have a major effect on ticket sales as punters hold off on making a purchase until they know whether an event is going ahead. It won’t have helped matters that Dorna insisted Qatar and Thailand were due to go ahead as planned before being cancelled just days later.

In the meantime, there is only so much the sport can do when it’s battling issues much bigger than itself but from a motorsport perspective, the worst-case scenario is now very much in action.