Felipe Massa, president of FIA Karting, in an exclusive interview with TKART, states that he does not have many doubts regarding the feasibility of the 2021 OK-OKJ World Championship in his country Brazil: the date (28-31 October) and the place (Birigui, Brazil) remain absolutely confirmed.
The widespread opinion among the team managers of the main international karting teams, however, seems to go in the opposite direction.
Some doubts about the real feasibility of the FIA Karting World Championship for the OK and OK-Junior 2021 classes started after the first round of the OK – OKJ European Championship in Genk. On that occasion, the 22 teams present at the event (the official racing teams of the manufacturers and the most famous private teams in the world) had signed a letter of common intent addressed to the FIA, declaring in advance that they would not participate in the world championship if it stayed in Brazil. The reasons: the health risks due to a trip to a country that currently has a rather complicated health situation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Secondly, (this is what we think), also the will of the teams not to face such a complicated logistical (and consequently expensive) race within a fairly difficult two-year period in economic terms, precisely because of the Pandemic.
Considering that the minimum number of participants to be able to carry out the world championship could be reached even without the contribution of the European teams that usually compete in the most prestigious races (FIA and WSK) it is also true that a world championship without the strong names of karting (both in terms of the drivers and teams) would probably be half a world championship… and of lower value.
However, this does not seem to scare Felipe Massa, who in an exclusive interview explained his point of view on the matter.
What is the current situation regarding the world championship?
There is nothing to say about the world championship and there is no change: the world championship will take place in Brazil. So at the moment it has been decided that the Brazilian F1 GP will take place a week later. We have to evaluate the situation day by day and there is no reason at the moment to take a decision other than to have the world championship in Brazil on the defined date.
How did you react to the letter from the teams in which they declared that they will not participate in the world championship if it is held in Brazil?
I get a lot of letters from the teams, of various kinds. But at the moment this does not change the date and place of the 2021 World Cup. If you can travel, if you can move without hindrance and safely, I don’t see why you shouldn’t compete. The most important thing is safety, so for us that is undoubtedly the main objective, but if there are no contraindications, we will carry on with the race as scheduled.
Help us understand what the covid situation is like in Brazil
Brazil is 2 or 3 months behind Europe. The situation has already begun to improve. The number of deaths is already improving. Problems with hospitals are also improving. Brazil is currently the fourth or fifth country that will vaccinate the most. But this is not said in Europe, there is always negative news. We are evaluating the situation every week, every month, but there will be no decisions until August. Then if there really is a problem that will prevent us from traveling or for safety, we will certainly have to face it.
Is there therefore no plan B at the moment?
In the paddock there is a concern that a more “amateur” sport like karting compared to F1, may not be able to manage a situation like the current one in Brazil
FIA races are not amateur races.
Well, compared to F1…
No, no, they are not at an amateur level. An amateur level were all the championships that took place this winter in which not even masks were used, this is what amateur means, not the FIA races. Safety is the most important thing for the FIA in all the championships they manage: F1, Formula E… In all the championships there is a safety protocol so that the events can be realised if it is applied.
Do you care a lot about this world championship?
I care about all the world championships. I’m at all the races, like now for example. I care about the development of karting. And not just in Europe.
Felipe Massa, therefore, is carrying on, he has not moved an inch from his idea of also taking karting outside of Europe, established over 2 years ago when the pandemic wasn’t even in our worst nightmares.
The FIA Karting president clearly knows that he must not give in to the positions of the teams which, by nature, are a bit reluctant to undertake very demanding trips, perhaps overseas and in a country where it is also difficult to import their products due to high tax rates. Furthermore, they think that behind these kinds of trips there are extra costs that are not budgeted for European races. To mention one thing, all the material needed for the world championship (chassis, engines, equipment, etc.) must be sent about 2 months before the race if you want to receive it in time in Brazil. This therefore obliges the teams to equip themselves with twice the amount of material to be able to compete in the races scheduled in Europe in the period between shipment to Brazil and the return of the material after the race. An extra budget that is obviously borne by the teams and drivers. Just as the cost of a possible further preparatory race would fall on the drivers’ shoulders. It should be known, in fact, that when a team and its drivers decide to participate in a world championship, they leave nothing to chance. Also, especially if the track is unknown because it is not a circuit where the usual international races are held, there are always test sessions and perhaps a preparatory race to be carried out 7 or 14 days before the world championship. This would oblige, in the case of the world championship in Brazil, an extremely long trip for teams, mechanics, drivers and companions to another continent, with consequent inevitable repercussions on costs. And as costs increase, obviously, a decrease in the number of participants who want to pay for them is foreseeable. And the teams are obviously concerned about this.
Even if we are talking about international karting, participated by the most famous manufacturers and the most competitive and professional teams, this sport can hardly be compared to other FIA world title motorsports. F1, WRC, Formula E… These are championships based on very different budgets from those of the world of karting. A Birel Art, a CRG or a Tony Kart, just to name three, do not match a Ferrari, Mercedes or Red Bull both in terms of financial resources and in terms of facilities and personnel. So the procedures and requests made to an F1 team (even if we consider the easiest ones), and which are sacrosanct from a safety point of view, risk putting much smaller companies, with staff in the order of dozens units rather than hundreds, in serious difficulty. And we’re talking about the manufacturers. Because if we extend the discussion to private teams (Ward Racing, Ricky Flynn Motorsport, Forza Racing, VDK Racing, SP… just to name a few) the situation becomes much worse and unsustainable, especially in an economically unfortunate period such as the one in which we are now.
The goal and the great work done by President Massa are certainly commendable, this is beyond doubt. Bringing FIA regulated karting also to Brazil and to many other countries in the world where it is not yet present is the right thing to do and the whole karting system can only benefit. That this then extends to organising a race in Brazil in the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic is another issue that needs to be debated.
After a collection of impressions and opinions among the teams present in Essay for the European Championship, the feeling is that the operators perceive FIA Karting as distant and unable to fully understand karting. It seems that a sort of arm wrestling has come about once again with the manufacturers/teams on the one hand, experienced operators in the sector who in the last 40 years have seen everything and the opposite of everything at a regulatory and promotional level, and on the other the Federation which offers solutions that are far from the practical and real needs of karting and from which teams and manufacturers expect much more in terms of relaunching and promoting karting, rather than an expensive race in South America.
In fact, thinking about the recent past, if a race in Brazil were enough to develop our sport in that country, given that in the last 8 years there have been 2 world championships in Bahrain, this country should now be the second homeland of karting, after Italy, or in any case the fastest growing market. Instead…
We just have to wait and see if this tug-of-war between the FIA and the manufacturers/teams will be won by one side or the other, or if in the end, thanks to mediation, a common meeting point will be found. The end of August (when the teams will inevitably have to send their material to Brazil in order to compete in the race) is not that far off. Then we will understand what will become of the 2021 OK-OKJ World Championship.