F1 "worried" about 2022 calendar as COVID restrictions return

Formula 1 sporting director Steve Nielsen admits that he's "worried" about the potential impact of the return of tighter COVID-19 restrictions worldwide on next year's schedule.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12

The series has successfully run 22 events this year after juggling the calendar to take account of race cancellations.

An easing of restrictions in recent months, notably concerning UK red zones that impacted returning personnel, helped to smooth the path for the run of flyaway events at the end of the season.

However, the emergence of the Omicron variant in recent weeks has led to countries re-instating some restrictions.

While no F1 hosting nations are currently on the UK red list, that could change as the situation develops.

Meanwhile, entry to Australia, which is due to host the Melbourne race in April, remains tightly controlled, with visitors having to undertake 14-day quarantines in hotels.

"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little bit worried, I am," Nielsen said when asked by Autosport if he had concerns about the return of restrictions.

"Because as you've quite rightly pointed out that the optimism that we perhaps had a couple of months ago that the pandemic was on the back foot has been knocked back a bit in the last two or three weeks.

"So it's an ever-changing situation. Since the beginning, this thing has risen up and fallen away, depending on which region you're going in. And we've had to tip-toe around those changing infection rates and try and fit it with our calendar.

"I think the only thing in our favour is obviously in 2020, the pandemic was new to every country. And now while it's still a terrible thing, the world is gradually learning to live with it.

"So some of the more severe restrictions that we were seeing, certainly last year, and the first part of this year, countries are putting more robust protocols in place and learning to live with the virus.

Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes W12, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12, Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB16B, and the rest of the field away at the start

Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes W12, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12, Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB16B, and the rest of the field away at the start

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

"Which hopefully means that they can continue to accept international visitors, which is obviously a massive, important thing we need in order to be able to carry our championship around. So we are nervous of it.

"I'm pretty certain we can deliver the calendar we have, but we will monitor it and we will react if we have to."

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Asked if F1 already has a Plan B with alternative venues such as Portimao on standby, Nielsen insisted that the focus remains on the current calendar.

"Honestly, we're on Plan A," he said. "And we're not looking at any alternatives to Plan A. If we have to, and because things change, we'll do that. But that's far away at the moment."

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