The 2020 Australian Grand Prix has officially been cancelled on the back of the increased threat to the crowd, the paddock, and the entire Formula 1 operation.
The Australian Grand Prix being cancelled was the most logical decision to be made by the governing body, the sport, and local authorities. The real story emerging has been the utter incompetence exhibited by Formula 1 as an organization to be able to make mission critical, time-sensitive decisions that are cohesive and well-thought out. With much of the start of the 2020 Formula 1 season already affected by the virus, the FIA, Liberty Media, and Formula 1 are under the spotlight going forward as things will need to go much more smoothly from this point on to keep fans and sponsors happy.
The FIA/F1 Joint Australian Grand Prix Cancellation Statement
Here is the statement that F1 and the FIA made jointly in their official Australian Grand Prix cancellation announcement:
“Following the confirmation that a member of the McLaren Racing Team has tested positive for COVID-19 and the team’s decision to withdraw from the Australian Grand Prix, Formula 1 and the FIA convened a meeting of the other nine team principals on Thursday evening. Those discussions concluded with a majority view of the teams that the race should not go ahead.
Formula 1 and the FIA, with the full support of the Australian Grand Prix Corporation (AGPC) have therefore taken the decision that all Formula 1 activity for the Australian Grand Prix are cancelled.
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 and a further announcement will be communicated in due course.
All parties took into consideration the huge efforts of the AGPC, Motorsport Australia, staff and volunteers to stage the opening round of the 2020 FIA Formula One World Championship in Melbourne, however concluded that the safety of all members of the Formula 1 family and the wider community, as well as the fairness of the competition take priority.”
I’ve talked at length at times challenging the decision making of Formula 1 on the whole when it comes time to make the responsible decision between safety and profits, but this seemed as clear cut as it was going to get. Even with all available evidence proving that safety and risk of spreading the virus to the fans and around the paddock were exponentially higher Thursday, it still took Formula 1 HOURS longer than it should have. It lead directly to news sources reporting conflicting accounts with Skye Sports F1 claiming the race was going ahead as planned while BBC F1 was reporting via Andrew Benson that “inside sources” were reporting that The Australian Grand Prix was set to be cancelled. All the while, fans, teams, sponsors, etc all sat on their hands and let their imagination run wild.
What could possibly justify this?
Drivers Of The Australian Grand Prix Being Cancelled
Surely it’s not too difficult of a morale choice to say no racing to mitigate the risk to public health, right? That wasn’t readily apparent, unfortunately. After the announcement that 5 team members on the grid, 4 from Haas and 1 from McLaren, needed testing and quarantining, it seemed almost inevitable that by Thursday there be a positive test. And sure enough, a team member from McLaren was positive resulting in McLaren’s withdrawal from The Australian Grand Prix in swift, decisive action.
Some 8 hours afters after the withdrawal of McLaren, Formula 1 still hadn’t answered the question more broadly about whether they would go ahead with the GP as scheduled. On top of the scare we saw inside the McLaren garage, other drivers were voicing their concerns. Lewis Hamilton was vocal in the habitual Thursday pre-practice presser. He said in the late stages of the public press event:
“I am very, very surprised we are here. It’s great we have races but it’s shocking we are sitting in this room.”
He wasn’t the only driver who had clear concerns about racing amid worsening conditions. Sebastian Vettel also voiced his concerns along with former teammate Kimi Raikkonen:
“I don’t know how serious it is. You have to put yourself in other people’s hands. We did in getting here. The flights weren’t cancelled. But within that you are in your own bubble and you try to control it as much as you can. It is right to take care and take precautions – how much, there are a lot of questions that are very difficult to answer.”
The four time world champion was measured in his response, which makes sense considering he is one of the three directors acting on behalf of the drivers on the grid for the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association. But if the opinions of two drivers with world championships numbering in the double digits wasn’t enough, you can tack on one more for good measure as Raikkonen made his position clear:
“I don’t know if it’s the right thing that we are here. Probably not…
But it’s not up to us, it’s not our decision. If it would be purely all the teams decision we probably wouldn’t be here.”
There’s surely financial ramifications involved in these decisions. But at what point does Formula 1 understand the reputational damage supersedes their P&L if their brand can’t recover from being so irresponsible?
The Future Of Formula 1 In A Coronavirus World
THREE. Three hours ahead of the start of Free Practice Session 1 at the Australian Grand Prix and that’s the first time we heard of the cancellation. Three hours is also the same amount of time we had BBC & Skye F1 claiming they had it on good authority the race was cancelled.
But what would make Formula 1 wait so long?
The future of Formula 1, atleast for the 2020 season, is grim as displayed by the heavy reluctancy we saw with the sport’s key decision makers unable to make the call that needed to be made in a more timely manner. It suggests the level of desperation that Formula 1 needs the Grand Prix event to go ahead despite best available evidence & popular/paddock opinion all aligned that the race should not. Surely what Chase Carey and Liberty wanted to avoid was a slippery slope. If the Australian Grand Prix is cancelled, then all the way through Zandvoort surely has a question mark on it.
The major thing, though: Liberty has lost the plot. Of course, this is also a business decision to want to do everything possible to race. But what sort of tone have they just begun the season that was supposed to be the calm before the storm? Let’s not forget we have arguably the most tumultuous summer break and impending regulations (that have yet to be fully set) to magically be implemented in record time.
Heads of Formula 1 can’t even properly cancel a race when clearly this was Occam’s razor after news of McLaren’s withdrawal. And we’re supposed to trust them with the future of this sport, why?
See you at Zandvoort.
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