There’s a dramatic contrast between the cancellation of the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix and the last Formula 1 race to be officially called off, the Australian Grand Prix in 2020. And that’s to the credit of the local authorities and F1.
The comparison is limited in that there’s a profound difference between the horrendous scenes of flooding unfolding in the region and the early, uncertain days of the COVID-19 pandemic. But what it boils down to is one race being cancelled clearly and decisively and another that wasn’t officially canned until tens of thousands of baffled people were queuing at the gates on Friday morning.
When confronted with dynamic and evolving situations, a delicate balance is required between reacting in the right way and avoiding over-reaction. While the threat was clear, heightened by the red alert warning issued covering Tuesday and Wednesday, it would have been illogical to cancel the race purely as a precaution. After all, there will be an economic impact for the local area, so abandoning the event needlessly would simply have made a terrible situation slightly worse.
But interim action was taken, with F1 emptying the circuit, adjacent to the Santerno river, of personnel as a precaution. In the background, discussions and the constant process of evaluation were ongoing. Throughout, F1 was calm, consistent and informative. What’s more, the time that passed between it becoming clear the event would be cancelled and it being made public was brief.
That’s not to be underestimated, as it’s all-too-easy to fall short of that. In Australia, it was clear long before the eventual announcement that the race was off. That caused needless confusion and unnecessary travel and, worst of all, augmented the risk of contributing to the spread of COVID-19 – the very thing the cancellation was intended to avoid.
This was largely down to the fact that there were issues of liability and responsibility to be dealt with. In short, that the race was being cancelled wasn’t the issue, but exactly who made that call was.
From afar, the decision to cancel the Imola event appears completely logical. I’m not in Italy and having experienced the widespread misrepresentation of the situation in Bahrain during the 2012 Bahrain Grand Prix weekend propagated by some big-name media organisations that should have known better, I’m wary of drawing conclusions that aren’t supported by first-hand observation.
But what’s obvious is there are far more important things to be tackled than holding a grand prix in Emilia Romagna right now and available resources must be focused on that. Reducing the influx of people and the resulting strain on already-damaged infrastructure and allowing the various services in the area to focus on the matter in hand is the right thing to do.
It would have been bad for F1 to even to be seen to be considering pressing on with the event once there were calls from the top of government – namely deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini – to cancel it and the scale of what’s unfolding in Emilia-Romagna became clear. But while this outcome might seem obvious, history tells us that very often the right path is not taken.
Yes, it was made easier by the fact the authorities were clearly pushing for the cancellation, which made it more straightforward. In its announcement, F1 referenced “the competent authorities including the relevant Ministers, the President of the Automobile Club of Italy, the President of Emilia Romagna Region, the Mayor of the City and the promoter” as the other parties involved. But the result is a sound decision, made quickly and communicated efficiently.
That might seem like the least to expect, but given the way Australia 2020 played out, and the mishandling of the race-that-never-was at Spa in 2021, it’s not something that should be taken for granted even if the situations were all different.
There was widespread criticism of how Spa and Melbourne were handled at the time including from The Race. So it’s only right and proper that when something is done right credit is given even if it might seem, from the outside, straightforward.