The teams gathered in Melbourne on Wednesday last week, when the weekend would fall apart due to the outbreak of the Coronavirus. The drama began on Wednesday when seven members of McLaren were placed in isolation after a member of the team tested positive. The confirmation came late on Thursday / early Friday.
The cancellation was agreed by the teams after Ferrari and Mercedes agreed that the race could not go ahead. We know McLaren withdrew on Thursday which prompted a summit late into the night between the nine remaining teams, Liberty Media and Motorsport managing director Ross Brawn, and FIA president Jean Todt.
As this meeting took place in the Crown Hotel, conflicting reports about what was going on. The situation was could the nine remaining teams carry on with the weekend, knowing there was a risk of catching Coronavirus?
On Thursday, I think it became clear when Lewis Hamilton said he ‘was shocked’ that the race was going ahead and called for it to be cancelled it was the second nail in any hopes of the Grand Prix going ahead. You need to say, to have the biggest name and marketing tool briefing against the sport was extraordinary.
The reality is, this is really serious with people dying every day, lots of people ill and even if they are not ill, many people being affected financially and emotionally. No one really knows the extent of what we are dealing with, but we should all take precautions to keep as many people as safe as possible.”
Later that evening, we begin to get reports that a member of McLaren had tested positive for the virus and the team were withdrawing from the race, I thought there was no way the race will go ahead. The nine remaining teams were then called to a meeting in a hotel.
On Wednesday, the teams had agreed to carry on for now. The regulations state, “An Event may be cancelled if fewer than 12 cars are available for it.”
But there were rumours beginning to emerge that Ferrari was considering withdrawing from the event, effectively taking Alfa Romeo and Haas with them. They would not be able to operate without Ferrari’s technical help, reducing the grid to twelve cars.
In another round of talks, the eight remaining teams were split four-four on whether to go ahead. Then a flight passenger list emerged from Melbourne Airport that Sebastian Vettel was already booked on to an early morning flight out of Australia the following morning.
Ross Brawn then cast the deciding vote, which was to continue and review on Friday night.
Following the vote to go ahead, a phone call between Daimler Chairman Ola Källenius and Mercedes F1 CEO Toto Wolff about the impact of the coronavirus situation and what Mercedes should do with its F1 team. Kallenius told Wolff it was his decision but the situation in Europe was getting worst.
At this point, there was no way the race could happen, as only ten cars were now prepared to start. Meanwhile, the local government ordered that no large gatherings were allowed. This was the shift in power which gave the FIA the power under the sporting code to cancel the race.
Then we get the hours of negotiation between Liberty Media and the promoter, this centred on who was liable for the cancellation. This meant that the race was cancelled, but who would cancel as they would be responsible.
By this time, the overnight curfew was over the teams were heading into work. However, it wasn’t looking normal from the images emerging of teams arriving in pack up gear, for a race team to arrive that way and hearing the news it seemed the race was off.
A flight list and photographs then emerged online of Sebastian Vettel leaving Melbourne, this was strange as at the time the race was on. The flight left the country heading to Dubai, this was while the race was going ahead. Along with their families.
Then the paddock opened ‘as normal’ three hours before FP1, watching the images on Sky Sports and reading Twitter this wasn’t normal. Remember at this point we were still expecting officially the weekend to go ahead, but we all knew it wasn’t.
Then at lunchtime, we get images of fans being held by security at the gates, this was because of the standoff between Liberty and the Australian Grand Prix Corporation. Neither wanted to be the organisation cancelling because of liability in the insurance and who would pay the bills.
Ross Brawn, F1 Managing Director Motorsport and Techincal Director
In the coming hours, we finally got a decision on Friday lunchtime in Europe to postpone Bahrain and Vietnam. On Thursday Zandvoort and Barcelona were postponed, with Monaco being cancelled. The following week has been one of confusion, as teams work out what to do next.
This is what we know so far
- F1 has the right to set the calendar this year to speed up planning, rather than the usual consultation process, although it will still coordinate with the teams to ensure plans are feasible
- Race weekends could be reduced from three days to two, in which case a working group would be set up to decide the exact format
- The 2021 regulations will be deferred until 2022
- Under the current rules, which now will run into 2021, aspects of the cars’ designs will be frozen while some will remain free for development; details will be resolved following talks
- The idea of lowering the budget cap in 2021 from its existing figure of $175m will be discussed
- The Monaco Grand Prix has been cancelled for the first time since 1954
The changes to the calendar and how the season plans out that is a million-pound question…