Australian Grand Prix called off
March 12 2020 , 8:23 pm
There has been no official confirmation from F1 or governing body the FIA but the news follows a McLaren team member testing positive for coronavirus.
The situation rapidly developed throughout Thursday night in Melbourne and an announcement that the race will not take place is now expected.
The decision throws into doubt the rest of the Formula 1 season.
F1 and the FIA have come in for criticism for their handling of the situation.
World champion Lewis Hamilton said on Thursday at the official F1 news conference he was “very, very surprised” the sport was pressing on with plans to continue with the race while the outbreak of the virus worsened and other sports suspended or cancelled events.
An initial meeting of team bosses with F1 and FIA officials on Thursday night, after a tense day in the paddock at Albert Park, broke up with an agreement to carry on with Friday practice as normal and review the situation later that day.
But the plans changed later in the evening as several insiders – including leading drivers – expressed their concerns about the idea of racing amid the risk of further cases of coronavirus in the tight-knit F1 paddock.
The decision was reviewed at later meetings and eventually, at around 0200 Friday local time (1500 GMT on Thursday), the decision was made to call the race off.
In total, eight F1 workers have been assessed and tested for Covid-19.
Seven were cleared on Thursday but an eighth, from McLaren, tested positive.
Australian Grand Prix organisers said in a statement a ninth person had been assessed and tested, with the result pending. This person was “not associated with any F1 team, the FIA or associated suppliers”, the statement said.
There is no sense yet of the knock-on effects of the Australian race being called off, but the Bahrain Grand Prix, scheduled to be the second meeting of the season on 22 March, is now in serious doubt.
A decision is also expected imminently on the Vietnam Grand Prix, scheduled for 5 April, after the government in Hanoi banned travel into the country for anyone who has been in Italy – among other locations – in the previous 14 days.
F1 chief executive Chase Carey was in Hanoi on Thursday trying to find a way around the restrictions.
The Chinese Grand Prix, scheduled to be the fourth race, was postponed in February after government officials said it could not go ahead.
There are now serious questions as to when, or even if, the F1 season will start at all.
The next race after Vietnam is scheduled to be the Dutch Grand Prix on 5 May, the start of a run of three races in four weekends that also includes the Spanish and Monaco events.
But with the coronavirus situation developing by the day, and countries imposing tighter restrictions on travel, it is impossible to know at this stage whether any of those races can go ahead.
The decision to cancel the race in Australia raises huge questions about the future of the sport this year.
F1 authorities faced criticism for their decision to press ahead with the season-opening race, and it is true the teams feel they lacked direction and leadership from the powers that be.
But the FIA and F1 were responding to advice from local authorities, with Australian officials saying earlier in the week they saw no reason for their race not to go ahead.
The fact it has now been called off is an illustration of the speed with which the coronavirus pandemic has developed across the globe.
But it also shines a spotlight on what some will see as the F1 authorities having rather too firm a focus on ‘keeping the show on the road’ – as well as the dollars rolling in – and not enough on the realities of what really matters.
Now, not only does the sport not know when – or even if – the season can start, but the authorities, teams and race promoters have to face the question of what happens to all the fees that have been paid for races that might now never happen.
The answer to that may well be different for separate events, and it will depend on who has made this decision, who pays for the race in each specific country, and the legal and contractual complexities of each deal.
In addition, there are the knock-on effects for the teams themselves, as a large proportion of their income comes from those race fees.
Some teams need that income more than others – and some need it very much indeed.
F1 is entering uncharted waters, and to describe them as choppy could be a massive understatement.