As we now know, the expected start to the F1 season at Melbourne was cancelled due to the Covid-19 situation world wide. A team member of McLaren had tested positive to the virus and at least three members of the Haas team were also positive. On the mid-morning of Friday the 13th of March, organisers declared that the whole F1 event had been cancelled. Unfortunately the time of that announcement came as thousands of attendees were left locked out of the entrance gates.
What appears to have occurred is back-office notifications to the organisers from teams stating they were not happy with the thought of competing. It is known that Mercedes had notified of their intent not to compete and would commence packing up on the morning of the 13th.
A joint statement was released on Friday from the FIA, the F1 organisation, and other parties, which read:
“Following the announcement of the Australian Grand Prix’s cancellation this week and the ongoing and fluid nature of the COVID-19 situation globally, Formula 1, the FIA and the promoters have taken these decisions in order to ensure the health and safety of the traveling staff, championship participants and fans, which remains our primary concern.”
“Formula 1 and the FIA continue to work closely with the race promoters in Bahrain and Vietnam and the local health authorities to monitor the situation and take the appropriate amount of time to study the viability of potential alternative dates for each Grand Prix later in the year should the situation improve. As a result, Formula 1 and the FIA expect to begin the Championship in Europe at the end of May but given the sharp increase in COVID-19 cases in Europe in recent days, this will be regularly reviewed.”
This is in the light of both Bahrain and China cancelling their rounds, with Bahrain going a step further after initially signalling a crowd-free running of their race. The first race for Vietnam has also been postponed, a major blow for the country and its motorsport family.
From a drivers’ perspective, many indicated they understood the situation but were naturally quite disappointed. Daniel Ricciardo said: “I’m devastated I can’t compete at my home GP here in Melbourne & get the season started. Ultimately though the right decision has been made & I think everyone can understand this is something we’ve never seen before. Sorry to all fans who came out for the support. Much love.” F1 debutante in waiting, Nicholas Latifi tweeted: “It goes without saying that I was extremely excited to finally make my debut in Formula 1 this weekend but it will have to wait. The safety and well being of everyone involved has to be the priority. Stay safe everyone and hopefully we can go racing sometime soon.” And the newly renamed AlphaTauri acknowledged the work ahead with: “Formula 1 will recover from this situation, and we rely on its governing body and the commercial rights holder to monitor the situation and guide all the F1 teams accordingly.”
Of considerable discussion in social media groups and in Australian media was the timing of the announcement to cancel. Ross Brawn from the F1 group said that the event was initially given the go-ahead but a very rapid change in circumstances made the decision to cancel happen. “We had mapped out with the health authorities what would happen if we had one case, five case, 10 cases.” said Brawn. “But what you never know with those cases is what the association is with the people around. Having one case with 14 people having to go into isolation, that effectively knocked that team (McLaren) out of operation.”
Brawn also indicated that timezones and the location of the F1 CEO, Chase Carey, also contributed to the delay. Discussion with Jean Todt at the FIA in Europe was one timezone issue, and Carey was on a flight from Vietnam to Melbourne as the situation unfolded. From here Brawn feels that a re-plan of the schedule will do its best to include the events cancelled thus far. However, as we go to press, both the Spanish and Dutch F1 Grands Prix organisers are in discussion as to their scheduled rounds. The beginning of May is the current penciled-in start date for Holland and Spain is set to be a week later.
We will monitor the situation and update you as information comes to hand.