Formula One finally canceled Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix yesterday, days after that seemed inevitable. This morning, it also postponed the grands prix in Bahrain and Vietnam, with the first race of the season possibly not happening till June. Formula One didn’t have much of a choice in the end but the picture above—showing confused fans lining up today at the track in Melbourne—encapsulates how disorganized this all has been.
Racefans.net has a good rundown of the chaos in Australia that I recommend reading in full. This passage is the essence of it:
According to various sources matters thus came to a head during an early morning meeting in Melbourne, attended by F1 and AGPC representatives and local government officials, plus Martin Pakula, Victoria’s Minister for Tourism, Sport and Major Events, who would ultimately need to decide whether $60m of public money should be written off. His response during this three-hour meeting can only be imagined….
Equally, AGPC, led by chairman Paul Little, demanded that F1 cancel the race, while [F1’s managing director Ross Brawn] and co. pushed and pulled in the opposite direction. Another stalemate seemed in the offing until the decision was effectively taken out their hands by the intervention of the state’s Chief Medical Officer Andrew Wilson – and endorsed by Premier Daniel Andrews – who advised that mass gatherings should be prohibited.
If it was up to Formula One, in other words, we’d still have a race on our hands come Sunday, and maybe even crowds, too, which feels like a bad thing to do during a global pandemic, but, as Lewis Hamilton pointed out earlier this week, “cash is king” for F1, which has TV contracts to fulfill and race tickets to sell, and takes race fees from host sites, some or all of which Formula One doesn’t get if no race in fact goes off.
Which is why up until yesterday organizers had said that the race in Melbourne would, in fact, go on, even after McLaren had pulled out after a crew member had contracted coronavirus.
Chief executive Chase Carey explained Formula One’s decision-making Friday, with some quotes about how unpredictable the world is.
“It is a pretty difficult situation to predict. Everybody uses the word ‘fluid’ and it is a fluid situation,” Carey told a media conference at Melbourne’s Albert Park circuit.
“The situation today is different than it was two days ago and it was different than four days ago. Trying to look out and make those sorts of predictions, when it is changing this quick, it is challenging.”
Two days ago Daniel Ricciardo canceled a news conference for fear of exposure coronavirus after some Renault crewmembers were put in isolation, while four days ago F1 released a statement insisting, in so many words, that it had everything under control.
Via the BBC:
On Monday, [F1] released a statement saying that “the health and safety of fans, family and wider communities is always paramount” and that it was “taking a scientific approach to the outbreak”.
It said it was “acting on daily advice from the official health authorities”.
The statement said the sport he’d implement a number of measures based on advice from Public Health England, including the suspension of all non-essential travel”.
It added: “Dedicated teams of experts will be deployed at airports, transit points and circuits to safeguard personnel, focused on the diagnosis, management and extraction of suspected cases. Bespoke quarantine points are being installed by promoters for any suspected cases.”
I’m not sure why anyone should trust Formula One, which isn’t a health organization, to handle a pandemic. What that does show is that as of four days ago Formula One knew it had a serious situation on their hands and was planning to go full-speed ahead anyway, whether it could truly handle the pandemic or not.
What changed wasn’t Formula One gaining a conscience. It was teams themselves quitting, and not just McLaren. Via the BBC:
BBC Sport understands Ferrari were the first team to make it clear they were not prepared to race in Melbourne in the circumstances.
Confirmation of the abandonment in from the FIA and F1 came after Mercedes sent a letter requesting the cancellation of the race.
Mercedes said: “We share the disappointment of the sport’s fans that this race cannot go ahead as planned. However, the physical and mental health and wellbeing of our team members and of the wider F1 community are our absolute priority.
“In light of the force majeure events we are experiencing with regards to the coronavirus pandemic, we no longer feel the safety of our employees can be guaranteed if we continue to take part in the event.
“If organisers try to press ahead with the weekend it appears at this stage as if not all the teams will take part.”
The statement cancelling the race said a majority of teams suggested overnight they felt the race should not go ahead.
With Bahrain and Vietnam postponed, the Chinese Grand Prix also postponed, and the Dutch and Spanish grands prix and Monaco after that in countries dealing with coronavirus, the first Formula One race of the year might not happen until the Azerbaijan Grand Prix on June 7. That sucks for F1 fans but is probably for the best, despite Formula One’s worst intentions.