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Formula 1

How the Chinese GP’s fate became inevitable

by Matt Beer
3 min read

The decision to postpone Formula 1’s Chinese Grand Prix became inevitable as the novel coronavirus situation in China escalated.

Efforts will be made to reschedule the race, as losing it would represent a major blow to F1, its competing manufacturers and various partners, given the importance of the market.

It creates a big hole in calendar, too, with a four-week gap between races in Vietnam and the Netherlands – but this is a small price to pay in relation to the wider situation.

Some may feel the issue has been overblown but the response to the coronavirus outbreak, which has infected more than 45,000 and killed more than 1100, has been entirely appropriate.

A body like the World Health Organisation does not declare international emergencies for fun, and government-level advice not to travel to a country is not issued lightly.

Bulletins like the UK foreign office urging against non-essential travel already presented an obvious logistical hurdle, while initial freights that were supposed to be sent to China for the grand prix were delayed.

However, the issue goes well beyond F1 simply being unable to access the country easily.

Exposing thousands of people to an airborne disease is problematic in itself, but the knock-on consequences are unpredictable

The first point on the WHO’s list of strategic objectives for dealing with the coronavirus outbreak includes “preventing further international spread from China”.

With the infection/death counts rising daily, and many, many more likely to be carrying the coronavirus, persevering with an F1 race represented an increasingly irresponsible option.

Should any F1 personnel become carriers, they would help transport the disease around the world.

Chinese Grand Prix grid 2019 Mercedes

Attendees travel from multiple countries, and there are races the Netherlands, Spain, Monaco, Azerbaijan and Canada within two months of the Chinese GP’s scheduled date.

Exposing thousands of people to an airborne disease is problematic in itself, but the knock-on consequences are unpredictable and could be powerful.

A vaccination is months from being ready, so limiting human-to-human transmission of the disease is vital.

Containing the disease is the only way to stabilise the numbers, which in term helps “identify, isolate and care for patients early” – another key WHO objective.

As efforts to do that have grown, the number of sports that have been impacted snowballed.

Football, basketball, athletics, cycling and Olympic qualifiers were among those swiftly affected, and in recent weeks it became clearer than ever that F1 was not immune to the problem.

Romain Grosjean Haas Chinese Grand Prix 2019 Shanghai

First, the FIA said it would evaluate the calendar and “if necessary, take any action required to help protect the global motorsport community and the wider public”, then Formula E’s race was axed.

Cancelling the Chinese GP was therefore the only sensible decision.

There are now two key questions.

First, whether this is the end for the Chinese GP in 2020, or whether some kind of major calendar rejig can allow a Shanghai event to take place later in the year.

On the surface that seems like a significant amount of effort to make, especially as the severity of the situation and the raft of unknowns make it almost impossible to estimate when F1 would even get a green light to race in China this year.

Vietnam is simply at a stage where the situation needs to be monitored

The second question is whether the inaugural F1 race in Vietnam, scheduled two weeks earlier than the dropped China round, will be impacted.

There is a very small number of confirmed cases so far but it had risen to 15 at the WHO’s last count.

Vietnam shares a border with China, so the possibility for simple travel between the countries by potential carriers of the virus the two countries exists.

Controlling future movement is only preventative. If it has already happened at any point over the last few weeks, which is possible, it may have spread already.

However, while losing China (in April at least) became an inevitability, Vietnam is simply at a stage where the situation needs to be monitored.

It is unwise to speculate further. Organisers of the race said earlier this month “we don’t anticipate any significant impact on our April event”.

For the sake of avoiding a six-week gap between the Bahrain and Dutch GPs, F1 will hope that remains the case.

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