How many teams go bust? How many track operators get into a whirlpool? How many projects are put on hold again? Nobody can know how big the crisis in motorsports will get. Of course, it all depends on how long the virus keeps the world in suspense and how many races are canceled. In the end, it’s all about the lost money for each canceled race.
Of course, it is far from the biggest crisis in motorsport, at least not yet. But one of the biggest. A look into history shows that.
Can you imagine a Grand Prix with only three cars at the start and the winner decided by driving 15 laps? This is exactly what happened at the French GP in 1926 when only Bugatti reported three cars and Jules Goux could literally have had a coffee break due to the lack of competitors.
What had happened back then? An economic crisis, much too expensive racing cars that brought some manufacturers like Delage to the brink of ruin – and above all: no private customers. Back then, motorsport was one in which the manufacturers competed against each other, not primarily the drivers. Win on Sunday, sell on Monday.
But at the time, driving was still going on. The engines were completely silent twice – like now with the coronavirus. First in the First World War, which broke out in July 1914 a few weeks after the French GP. In 1915 and 1916 there were only three major races in America: the America GP, the Vanderbilt Cup and the Indy 500. Of course, the top European drivers were also represented, but in 1917 and 1918 there was no wheel spinning at all.
It was similar in the Second World War. At that time there was no world championship in GP sports, but a European championship. It was dominated by Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union. But the 1939 season had to be stopped early when the war broke out. A champion was never officially chosen. According to the point system at the time, it should have been Hermann Paul Müller for Auto Union. But the Nazis declared Hermann Lang of Mercedes-Benz a champion – which unrecognized internationally.
In 1940 and 1941 the car were only driven in America, including the Indy 500, and in 1942 only in South America: Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina. 1943 and 1944 were completely over, once again the cars stood still for two years.
The years 1909 to 1911, the first existential crisis in racing, was also astonishing. In 1908, 48 drivers from 17 manufacturers (including Mercedes and – you can hear and be amazed – Opel) started at the French GP. The race was canceled a year later due to a lack of participants. It wasn’t revived until 1912. The reason back then: an economic crisis.
Then of course there were the oil crises. As early as 1956 and 1957, several Formula 1 races were canceled (in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Spain) due to the Suez conflict. No race was canceled in 1973. But in times of car-free Sundays in the wake of the oil shortage, there was, of course, no thought of Formula 1 for manufacturers. At that time, Ferrari had a shadowy existence in Formula 1. Motors were otherwise only built by the British racing team BRM and (for the rest of the field) the private smithy Cosworth.
And finally, there was the 2008/2009 economic crisis. At that time BMW, Toyota, and Honda got out of Formula 1, Kawasaki left MotoGP – and these are just a few examples of many cases.
The coming weeks and months will show how severe the 2020 crisis will be.