This year the circumstances are unique, but this is not the first time that the opening round of the World Championship has had problems
Probably the most famous cancellation of the first round came in 1980 when heavy snow not only covered the Salzburgring circuit in Austria but even blocked the paddock entrance. A year later snow also caused the postponement of the first day of practice although it thawed and the Grand Prix finally went ahead. Already the proposed opening round in 1980 in Venezuela had been cancelled because of financial problems.
It will also not be the first time the smaller classes have taken the limelight with no premier class race at a Grand Prix. In 1982 the old Brno road circuit in Czechoslovakia was deemed too dangerous for 500cc machine and the smaller classes – the 350cc, 250cc, 125cc, 80cc and, of course, the sidecars, entertained the vast crowds.
It has also worked the other way. In 2008 the rapidly arriving hurricane meant the 250cc riders at Indianapolis made the long trip across the Atlantic but never actually raced at the legendary venue. The opening round under the Qatar floodlights a year later had to be split into two days with the MotoGP™ race on a Monday after rain brought proceedings to a halt on Sunday night.
There are a number of occasions when the leading 500cc riders refused to race on safety grounds. The worried organisers usually managed to pull together a grid of privateers who just had to race and ignore the danger to enable them to fill their van with diesel and buy a new set of tyres for the next Grand Prix. The result was some unlikely 500cc Grand Prix winners.
In 1974 unknown German rider Edmund Czihak won the 500cc German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring when the leading riders, led by Phil Read and Giacomo Agostini, refused to ride on safety grounds highlighted by the amount of Armco barriers surrounding the circuit. Five years later, Dennis Ireland won his only 500cc Grand Prix at Spa Francorchamps when the top riders refused to race on the slippery surface. Swiss rider Michel Frutschi won in 1982 at Nogaro in France when the top riders, led by Barry Sheene and Kenny Roberts, asked me to draft their letter to the organisers stating the circuit was too dangerous for 500cc bikes.
In 1989, I can still see Eddie Lawson sitting on the pit lane wall at Misano signalling to 500cc Grand Prix winner, and local rider, Pier Francesco Chili with a single finger every lap of the race. I don’t think it was to celebrate the fact Frankie was leading after the top riders refused to compete in the re-run race after the first one was stopped on safety grounds.
The 2020 season has hit very different problems that have never been encountered before. It’s new territory for everybody but one thing is for certain: those Moto2™ and Moto3™ riders will put on a great show under the floodlights on Sunday to start the new season in style.