The MotoGP Test At Sepang, due to be held from 19th - 21st of February, has been canceled, Dorna announced today. The King of Malaysia, at the request of the Malaysian government, has declared a state of emergency in Malaysia which is due to last until August 1st. The state of emergency has been declared in an attempt to stem the Covid-19 pandemic which continues to spread around the world.
The cancellation comes despite the best efforts of Dorna, IRTA, and the circuit to make the Sepang test as self-contained as possible. Dorna and IRTA had put forward a proposal to house everyone involved in the test at the Sama Sama hotel, located next to Kuala Lumpur International Airport, to the exclusion of other guests. Everyone - riders, teams, officials - would travel between the hotel and the circuit only, with no time outside of the MotoGP bubble. As the Sama Sama hotel is where most teams and riders involved stay during the test anyway, very little would change.
This proposal had a great deal of support, but in the end, the Malaysian government declaring a state of emergency made it impossible.
At the moment, the Qatar test, set to take place from 10th - 12th March, will still go ahead. This, of course, is still subject to how the Covid-19 pandemic develops over the next two months. The situation in Qatar is relatively stable, with case numbers and deaths still very low and showing only a small rise over the winter. Qatar may not want to allow a large group of people to enter from a region where the pandemic is still not under control. However, Qatar's vaccination program is already underway, with everyone over 65 years of age and with certain chronic illnesses currently being given the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and the Moderna vaccine expected to come on stream very soon.
If the Qatar test has to be canceled, then the fallback position would be a test at either Jerez or Portimao, with Jerez being the most likely option. The Moto2 and Moto3 classes are currently scheduled to test at Jerez from March 16th-18th, though that, too, is far from certain.
At the current moment, the start of the season is far from clear. Although no announcement beyond the cancelling of the Sepang test has been made - and no further announcements can be made, given the uncertainty of the current situation - MotoMatters.com understands that the opening races of the season are far from certain to go ahead. Most at threat are the overseas rounds at Termas de Rio Hondo in Argentina, and the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, as a result of the restrictions currently in place and expected developments.
Should Argentina and Austin be dropped, then that would leave room for Qatar to be rescheduled later in the year, or for one of the reserve circuits, such as Portimao, to be inserted between Qatar and Jerez. With the race at Jerez due to happen on May 2nd, that leaves a lot of time for the pandemic to be contained - either through better weather, as was the case in 2020, or as a result of vaccination. However, the first few races, at least, are still expected to happen without fans present, or at least with only limited numbers allowed in.
The current understanding of the 2021 season is that it will go ahead, and there will be more races than there were in 2020. But as was the case early in 2020, the coronavirus is in charge, as French Grand Prix organizer Claude Michy put it.
The press release from Dorna appears below:
Sepang Tests cancelled
Tuesday, 12 January 2021
The FIM, IRTA and Dorna Sports regret to announce the cancellation of both the Shakedown Test and the Official Sepang Test.
The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting lockdowns and complications have obliged the cancellation of both events, which were set to take place at Sepang International Circuit in Malaysia in February.
The Qatar Test, currently set to take place at Losail International Circuit from the 10th to the 12th of March, continues to be confirmed and any further updates or changes will be provided as soon as available.