Australia hasn’t held a Formula 1 race since 2019. The 2020 event was one of the earliest sporting cancelations of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the 2021 version was first delayed, then canceled as well, due to the country’s hardline restrictions around international travel and vaccinations. But this year’s running — scheduled for April 10 — is fully expected to go ahead, regardless of all the drama Australia’s recently been in the news for surrounding tennis player Novak Djokovic’s desperate attempt at vaccination exemption and eventual deportation.
The reason the race’s organizers are so confident is because F1 has angled toward a mandatory vaccination policy for all paddock personnel in recent weeks, although it’s important to point out that the FIA hasn’t officially written that in stone yet. Australia requires all inbound travelers to be vaccinated. Andrew Westacott, the event’s CEO, recently affirmed his belief that the grand prix will go on to the press. As quoted by Motorsport.com:
“The rules are simple to get into the country and the rules are simple to operate in Formula 1. To come in for the event you’ll be 100 percent vaccinated and there won’t be exemptions sought for anyone, from anyone.
“Formula 1 has recognised around the world that they always need to comply with the rules at the borders for the jurisdictions in which they race. They’ve raced in 41 locations since Melbourne in 2020 and we’re going to be welcoming them into the country. The know the rules and we’re very, very comfortable with that.
“I think it goes without saying they will be a 100 percent vaccination and compliant with the laws. And that means when they come here to Melbourne they’re going to be operating in a very, very safe regime. That’s an underlined, defined position.
“Our arrangements have been in place well before the recent goings on with the Australian Open. We’ve worked very closely with the federal government, the state government, Formula 1 and the FIA for probably a year and a half on this.”
And just to drive it home:
“I’ll go on record and say [there is] zero chance of cancellation. We’re going to start building the track on the first of February.”
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Honestly I’m a little surprised at this show of confidence, given how strictly the Australian government has acted throughout the pandemic — especially with its own population. But the country has started to loosen restrictions as of late since it reached a rate of 80 percent vaccination for all citizens over 16 late last year.
As such, Australia is now experiencing its highest daily diagnosis numbers yet, according to the New York Times — going from about 1,500 to 2,000 new cases per day in mid-December to as many as 175,000 new cases by January 12. Australia’s single-day deaths peaked Friday at 80, though it’s worth noting 2,672 people died from COVID-19 complications in the U.S. only Thursday.
To take it back to the relatively unimportant subject of motorsport, that data does present reason to be at least a little skeptical about the claims that everything will go according to plan come April. Westacott told the media he couldn’t “remember when a major event was now recently canceled,” even though the golf Australian Open was canceled in October and had been planned to take place right about now.
Westacott does raise a good point in that F1 has traveled to numerous countries with varying restrictions throughout the pandemic and hasn’t been rejected or forced to cancel grands prix at any one of them. Hopefully his confidence is well placed, because I don’t think I’m alone in having missed Australia in the calendar over the last couple of years. Plus, Albert Park’s gonna be hella fast, when the circus does eventually return.