FRIDAY, AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX: A sense of unease and pandemonium gripped the Formula 1 world Friday morning, as reports of the weekend’s cancellation due to the coronavirus pandemic swirled just hours before cars were due on-track.
In the end, the FIA, Formula 1 Management and event organisers jointly decided to cancel the event. And to alleviate any questions, yes, there will be no 2020 Australian Grand Prix.
As Oceania awoke Friday morning for the start of a new Formula 1 season, a day so many Formula 1 fans count down too, there was an overwhelming lack of clarity.
The question of ‘Is it still on?‘ gripped everyone.
The BBC reported in the early hours that the event was already cancelled; they cited two senior Formula 1 sources. Other Formula 1 insiders, mostly journalists, were tweeting the same news.
Fears were high given McLaren announced late on Thursday they would pull out of the race after a team member tested positive for Covid-19.
As Friday morning progressed, fans of the Supercars, a support series, were locked out of the circuit. The series organisers suggested a race without fans at one point.
The day seemed as uncertain as the infamous 2005 US Grand Prix.
At 9am local time, four teams were reportedly in the paddock at the end of curfew, with the other five nowhere in sight, one journalist tweeted. Half-an-hour later, another journalist reported that two sources had told them a vote by the teams from the previous night ended in a 5-5 deadlock.
An AlphaTauri mechanic was reportedly tweeting out updates, at one point even suggesting an announcement from organisers was imminent. His account was then mysteriously deleted.
And while all of this was going on, all was seemingly normal for the big wigs behind the sport – neither the FIA or Formula 1 management had announced the race’s fate. It was only at 12:08pm that an announcement came, 1 hour and 52 minutes before the scheduled start of the first practice session.
“We appreciate this is very disappointing news for the thousands of fans due to attend the race and all ticket holders will receive a full refund,” the statement read.
It would later emerge, according to news reports, that Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen had both flown out of Australia while before the announcement.
Officials later fronted the media but reiterated a largely public relations-esque message; that they were taking the necessary precautions as advised by local health officials.
Formula 1 later published an interview with Managing Director Ross Brawn. He defended the decision not to cancel the race earlier as well as the time taken to actually cancel the event.
He said he only had an hour of sleep after McLaren’s announcement that a team member tested positive for the virus.
When asked to explain the lengthy delay of whether the race would go ahead, he said, “it just all takes time.”
“You can’t just make a decision, you’ve got so many factors to take into account,” Brawn added.
The teams have mostly posted supportive reactions to the news. Mercedes said in a tweet they were “gutted”, but accepted the decision. Ferrari used a more standard press release and said the team “fully supports” the cancellation.
McLaren provided a further update to their situation on Friday, confirming that 14 members were in quarantine in the team’s hotel following a confirmed case late on Thursday. The team also confirmed their support for the decision to call off the Grand Prix.
The Australian Grand Prix was not the first Formula 1 event to fall victim to coronavirus.
Early on Saturday morning, Formula 1 and the FIA jointly announced the postponement of the upcoming Bahrain and Vietnamese Grands Prix. The postponement of these two races, which were set to take place in late March and early April respectively, means the start of the Formula 1 season is now expected in May.
The Chinese Grand Prix was also previously postponed in early February.
With these postponements, which could very well be complete cancellations, the first race of the season, in theory, would be the Dutch Grand Prix on the 3rd of May.
But, with the continuing spread of the coronavirus through Europe, there’s still scope for this race, and the subsequent Spanish Grand Prix to be postponed too.
The only consolation for Formula 1 fans is that their sport is not the only one impacted.
The N.B.A basketball league has been suspended while a cricket game between Australia and New Zealand was held on Friday with no spectators. European soccer leagues have been disrupted, alongside golf and tennis events.
And, with regard to Formula 1, whether any more races will be cancelled is anyone’s guess. Sadly, the number of coronavirus cases across the world is still increasing.