Is the Australian F1 Grand Prix in jeopardy due to coronavirus?
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What a time to be an international sports event promoter, huh?
The coronavirus outbreak spreading across the globe continues to cause shockwaves, with six confirmed deaths in the US, 52 in Italy, and over 3000 globally. Beyond those who have been infected, the coronavirus is having significant impacts to all sorts of industries. At Driven, we've touched on the cancelation of next week's Geneva Motor Show and the production stoppages at places like Nissan's Kyushu factory.
Numerous motorsport events, like the Chinese Grand Prix and Qatar MotoGP opener have been chopped, too. And the Australian Grand Prix could be next.
It's arguably Australia's biggest motorsport event of the year, and it doubles as the curtain raiser for the 2020 Formula 1 season. Local organisers have repeatedly moved to ease concerns, adopting a 'the show must go on' approach in a statement issued to Australian outlet Speedcafe.
“We are all systems go and gearing up for the 25th Formula 1 race in Melbourne next week,” said Andrew Westacott, CEO of the Australian Grand Prix Corporation. “The finishing touches are being put on the circuit, Formula 1 freight and personnel are arriving in the coming days and we’re looking forward to opening the gates to the public on Thursday 12 March.
“The health and safety of everyone at the Formula 1 Rolex Australian Grand Prix 2020 is paramount. The Australian Grand Prix Corporation has robust health, safety and emergency management arrangements in place at each event and we are working collaboratively with health agencies and related government and emergency services organisations in addressing this matter.
“At this stage there is no indication of further travel bans, nor is there any indication that Formula 1 and the teams will not be arriving as usual. Formula 1 has again confirmed overnight that the Australian Grand Prix is going ahead and we’re looking forward to welcoming them and the teams to Melbourne.”
While the announcement sounds positive, there's lingering doubt around the event — particularly in regards to the high volume of team members flying to Australia from Italy. The nation ranks as one of the leading epicentres of coronavirus cases in Europe, and also acts as the base for F1 teams Ferrari and AlphaTauri (formerly Toro Rosso). Ferrari also provides supply assistance to the Alfa Sauber and Haas teams.
In a potential admission that quarantines haven't been ruled out for Italian teams, AlphaTauri team boss Franz Tost has told motorsport.com that it would be an “unfair” situation if the race goes ahead with some teams not featured on the grid.
"If [some] teams can't run for whatever reason, and I have not thought about this and also I'm not a decision maker, but then I think it would be unfair to start the season,” he said. "This is a big disadvantage for whoever it is."
There were already difficulties getting Ferrari staff to this week's Formula 2 testing in Bahrain, but Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto has said that all he needs is assurances prior to setting off.
“What we will need is simply to have assurance before leaving. If there are any medical screenings, we need to know about them. You need to know exactly what’s about. We need to understand what are the consequences in case of any problem,” he told motorsport.com.
“Obviously we need to protect our employees. We have got collective and individual responsibility towards them. And it’s important, really, to make sure that before leaving, the picture, whatever is the scenario, is known and clear.”
Of course, a race could still be held without Ferrari or AlphaTauri on the grid considering the unique circumstances. But, given Ferrari's tall standing within the series and the FIA, one must assume that a hell of a bunfight would be on the cards over whether the race will go on without them as a points-paying Grand Prix. The rest of the meeting, which includes round two of the Supercars Championship and round one of Australia's S5000 open-wheelers, is expected to be uneffected.
Australia currently has travel bans in place for those travelling from China and Iran, but not yet Italy. Although, that doesn't rule out self-isolation quarantines like those being recommended to Italy travellers returning to Britain. In those cases, travellers are being asked to self-isolate for two weeks. Numerous schools across the UK have been closed due to kids and stagg returning from holidays in Italy.
News around the virus continues to evolve very quickly. Some of the more extreme reports are forecasting a 10 month period of coronavirus pandemic outbreak. While Australia has just one death and around 30 cases, the idea of mass vaccinations of entire suburbs and sports stadiums being repurposed as quarantine sites is still being discussed.
No matter what happens it's worth remember that, at the end of the day, there are more important things afoot than just a bunch of cars racing in circles.