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Formula 1

F1’s embarrassing Australian gamble must never be repeated

by Glenn Freeman
3 min read

Formula 1 and the stakeholders of the Australian Grand Prix rolled the dice and lost. The gamble that the opening race of the 2020 season would somehow escape the reach of the coronavirus pandemic has failed.

It is truly regrettable a member of the F1 paddock had to be diagnosed with Covid-19, and McLaren take the swift and strong decision to withdraw from the race, to bring the severity of the issue into the necessary focus.

Many members of the F1 community are united in anger and frustration at the sorry state of affairs, given the lack of immediate response and information on Thursday evening and into the early hours of Friday.

It hints strongly at unpreparedness, either through an underestimation of the problem or a genuine belief that F1 and the GP could ride out the storm.

Whatever the reason, how this can be a surprise to anybody is a damning indictment of the attitude that was taken.

Assessing the consequences beyond Australia, it is clear that swift and proper action is needed.

A major question mark now hangs over when the F1 season will begin, but at first glance anything before the Dutch Grand Prix at the start of May seems irresponsible.

McLaren’s participation in next week’s Bahrain Grand Prix, the home race for its co-owner, must be in doubt. The Bahrain race was already due to take place behind closed doors because of its own coronavirus precaution measures.

McLaren F1 team personnel track walk Australia 2020 Melbourne

But it is unclear if McLaren could even get there, given team members – and potentially other F1 personnel – will now need to be tested and go into isolation.

So will the team, or others, even be allowed to travel to Bahrain?

Given F1 has previously made it clear that a world championship grand prix will not be held if a team cannot get to a race because of coronavirus-related restrictions, would that not wipe out that race as well?

Vietnam’s inaugural F1 race is also under threat of cancellation given its own escalating restrictions and proximity to China, where the virus started.

China’s own F1 race, which should have been the third round of the season in mid-April, was the first to be suspended.

The revived Dutch GP is therefore the next viable option for the season opener but who knows how far consequences will last.

There now needs to be unified pressure for the right, responsible decision to be taken. That goes beyond the fate of the Australian GP

Monaco organiser the ACM has released a statement already to say its grand prix at the end of May is expected to go ahead as planned, but it is monitoring the situation.

This is an example of proper preparedness, not the issue being overplayed. Anyone believing otherwise should think about how they might feel if they were among the people involved.

Spare a thought for the McLaren team member who has tested positive and the implications for them (and we hope they are only very short-term).

Spare a thought for the teams which prepared and implemented precautions as best as possible, steadfast in their trust that the right decisions were being taken from those above them.

Spare a thought for everyone in Melbourne who might in some way have been exposed to this, or anyone who might be carrying the virus unknowingly and were waiting for information on what to do next well after midnight local time.

These are the people who have been let down. There is plenty of blame being appointed online, but this was a collective failing across multiple organisations.

The simple, sad fact is the coronavirus threat has been known, and real, for a long time. It was a matter of when it struck and how severely, not if it ever happened at all.

There now needs to be unified pressure for the right, responsible decision to be taken. That goes beyond the fate of the Australian GP.

F1 must stop pretending F1’s bubble is impenetrable, join the ranks of other global sporting entities and accept that consequences run deeper than losing races and money.

This mistake is significant and embarrassing, and it was avoidable. It must not be made a second time.

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