It was the question on everybody’s lips before the new season even got underway, and with the 2020 FIA Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix being confirmed as cancelled in the last few hours, I wanted to get across my opinion of why we can’t look back at the weekend and brush it under the rug.
The sport must learn from its mistakes. It has to.
Coronavirus is no secret. The quick and widespread nature of the disease has been creating shockwaves across hundreds of sectors – from travel, politics, entertainment, and even sport. So, when F1 so confidently said that the Australian Grand Prix was to go ahead, despite championships around them postponing or cancelling events, many were left surprised and skeptical. Still, life goes on.
F1 is often referred to as a circus. There are a handful of reasons for this, and quite honestly that is an entry for another time, but one of the characteristics of it being like a circus is because of the number of people that are part of the championship. From media, drivers, team personnel, engineers, sponsors, guests; the list never ends. It is why, when you add the enormous amount of people who are required to travel halfway across the globe for their employment, in addition to the thousands of fans who have also paid money and travel to this ticketed event, you would expect there would be some visible forward planning from those in charge if something ‘out of the ordinary’ would occur.
With the World Health Organisation labeling coronavirus as a “pandemic” earlier in the week, big public events being banned for the foreseeable future and countries across the world reacting with mass closures, you would have thought F1 and the FIA would have held some ‘crisis talks’ about what to do if coronavirus found itself in the paddock – whether it be through a fan or someone who works within it. These talks may have happened, honestly have no idea, but from the way the whole situation was dealt with, it certainly appeared to be very naive and miseducated.
The topic of coronavirus, or the “c-word” as some journalists in Melbourne were dubbing it, was of clear interest leading up to the weekend. Current drivers’ champion Lewis Hamilton was even quoted as saying he was “very, very surprised [F1] is here this weekend”. It wasn’t until a team member at McLaren tested positive for coronavirus on Thursday that real stress was placed onto F1 shoulders to make a decision about the upcoming weekend, and quick.
McLaren then confirmed in a statement they would be withdrawing from the Australian Grand Prix following the positive case of coronavirus within their team. A decision that must have been difficult but one that I totally respect. Even sponsors of McLaren, including Estrella Galicia 0,0, came forward on social media to say how “proud” they were of the team for making the “right decision”.
Then came the wait.
With such a game-changing statement from McLaren, surely F1 had to postpone the event for the safety of all those on the ground in Melbourne. The world was watching. Waiting to see what would come next. The answer? Silence.
It is understood that throughout the night, talks were being held to make a decision on what should happen to the event. Of the teams, five wanted the race to go ahead as planned and the other five wanted it to be cancelled. There was also an apparent struggle between FIA, F1 and the organisers of the event on what the best outcome would be.
News on what was going on was being drip-fed from journalists on twitter who had to pull an all-nighter waiting on the odd text from a race official or rumour from an organiser to try and piece together some kind of idea of what was going on. Full credit to them, the journos on the ground did an incredible job but in the process just made F1 look incompetent and a total embarrassment.
Then it was suggested that Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen had left the circuit and boarded a plane back to Europe in protest. The message was clear but still nothing.
Fans and media across the globe waited on bated breath for an announcement, including those who had travelled to the event and were denied entry on Friday morning at the gates to the circuit, and after much speculation, almost 12 hours since McLaren announced their withdrawal from the Grand Prix, F1 confirmed the race had been cancelled.
The correct decision in my opinion and that which was actually necessary if F1 wanted to shake off this greedy persona it was starting to portray.
Now I know I can sit here and write this thing making it sound like cancelling the weekend’s runnings is an easy thing to do, trust me I am aware of the complications this could have. Sponsors will be disappointed, event organisers who have spent the past 12 months of their lives working tirelessly ready for this weekend will be distraught, fans who have been looking forward to the start of a new season and even travelled to the event will be heartbroken, but the health and safety of all those involved must take priority.
This is why when it takes a statement at 10:00 am local time to tell fans and personnel at the track that the weekend is cancelled, I get annoyed. Huge crowds have already built up and teams aren’t sure whether they’re coming or going with packing up parts or preparing for the first practice session.
For a championship who have made it clear they want to be Net Zero Carbon by 2030, really should be aspiring for more than having all the F1 circus fly halfway across the world for a media session or two.
The whole operation was shoddy and shocking and I hope that F1 and the relevant parties can all learn from the long list of mistakes they have made approaching this weekend. It is always said F1 is the pinnacle of motorsport, so maybe for the health and safety of all those involved, it should start acting like it.
I would also like to wish the best for all those now travelling home to their friends and families from Melbourne the safest of travels and hope you have access to the resources to help you recover from what was a very disappointing ‘almost’ race week.