Perfect storm caused Melbourne chaos
CEO of the Australian Grand Prix Corporation boss Andrew Westacott has described the “perfect storm” which lead to the confusion on the morning that the race was cancelled.
The race was cancelled in the early hours of Friday the 13th after a member of the McLaren team tested for the coronavirus. The teams then voted to cancel the race, but the information sent out to the fans was incorrect and led to hundreds being held at the gates.
They were left waiting for an hour for the announcement that the race had been officially called off, by which point frustrated ticket holders were still queuing up at gates. Speaking on the latest Below the Bonnet podcast, Westacott has talked through the confusing nature of the announcements.
He says a number of factors contributed to it being a “perfect storm”, including considerations as to whether the event itself may continue even without an F1 component.
Westacott said, “If you look at the landscape five days earlier, there was 86,000 people going to a cricket game at the MCG. We were right on the cusp with [the Australian] Grand Prix, and then a week later people have got the ability to cancel events into the future.”
He admitted that it was not perfect for anyone involved to have the fans being held outside the gates while the decisions were being made. He says that the government, FIA, Liberty, teams and the organisers where involved working across various time zones that aren’t necessarily conducive to making decisions when we had the event going on the Thursday, but things changed overnight.
There were a number of different things under consideration whether they could go ahead without F1, and you couldn’t do that before telling people. Adding, “We had to advise the right things to people at the right time. That’s the way it panned out.”
He explained that it was a challenge to keep emotions in check as he was upset that the show had been ripped away from fans, teams, staff and suppliers.
Fans should pull together – Wolff
Mercedes F1 CEO and team principal Toto Wolff has urged the fans to pull together because of the coronavirus pandemic, admitting that the championship must take a backseat until the crisis is resolved.
In an open letter, the Austrian admitted he was a disappointment to have seen the start of the 2020 season delayed due to the COVID-19 outbreak, which forced the Australian Grand Prix being abandoned, as well as the next six races being postponed.
Wolff says that racing is “by no means essential”, stressing Mercedes and Formula One as a whole must keep its staff and the public safe. Adding, “So, the prospect of months without F1 just as the season was about to start, after months of hard work to be ready for the new campaign – that prospect might be disappointing.”
“We must also realise, that racing is entertainment. We take it very seriously because we love it. But in the grand scheme of things, it is by no means essential. The health and wellbeing of our fans, our team members and society in general, however, is.”
Wolff says as a team we must do everything to minimise the spread of the virus. He says the team fully supports the decision made yesterday to postpone the race in Baku at the start of June.
Grosjean “positive” of no guarantees
Romain Grosjean says it is “positive” that team owner Gene Haas has admitted the team’s future isn’t guaranteed if the team does not have a strong start to the season.
Haas told Motorsport.com earlier this month, that having the chance to be competitive in the future if he was going to continue the huge investment required over the next five years. That prompted concern about the future of Haas, but Grosjean thinks that Haas’ honesty should be applauded: as it now gives the team members a clear message about what needs to be done.
Grosjean told French TV channel Canal+, “At least he clears things up. There is nothing worse than someone who says ‘No, no, we’ll stay in Formula 1, everything’s fine, etc’, only to stop the whole thing completely by surprise.”
Haas has maintained his only interest in the sport is if the team has a chance of fighting at the front, and confessed that the struggles the team faced in 2019 were hard to take at times.
Grosjean says that Haas’ mindset is the right one to have, especially because he is not someone who has come into the sport just to be on the grid. Adding, “Gene was clear: he joined F1 to put the Haas Automation brand on the map. He now has this reputation and the brand is well known. He came to Formula 1 also because he likes motorsport, he’s a true petrol head.”
He says he can understand the doubts placed in peoples mind by the comments, but the teams management, drivers and engineers know we’ve got to work.
Up to eighteen races in 2020
Formula One CEO Chase Carey says that he is expecting this season to have “fifteen to eighteen races” once it gets underway, and will likely extend past its original 29 November end date.
Yesterday it was announced a fifth race the Azerbaijan Grand Prix would also be postponed, joining Bahrain, Vietnam, Holland and Spain postponed, with Australia and Monaco being cancelled outright.
Last week the sport confirmed that it had brought forward the summer shutdown to cover March/April, freeing up August to run races should the season be underway by then.
In a statement released by Carey on Monday evening, sent to media and fans, he has outlined plans for the season’s resumption, though specific details are yet to be finalised. He said, “Over the past week, Formula 1, the 10 F1 teams and the FIA have come together and taken rapid, decisive action as part of our initial response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“While at present no-one can be certain of exactly when the situation will improve, it will improve and when it does, we will be ready to go racing again. We are all committed to bringing our fans a 2020 Championship Season.”
He says that the sport is fully expecting to get underway at some point in the summer with up to eighteen races and that the season would go into December.
Carey notes that the clearing of the summer break from the schedule now provides the series with the “opportunity to evolve the sport, experiment and try new things”.
He says that the recent agreements to postpone next years regulation changes, bring forward the summer shut down is to fill the lost off the first part of the season. Adding, “This flexibility offers an opportunity to evolve the sport, experiment and try new things.”
I didn’t know about DAS – Ocon
Esteban Ocon says that he had no idea that Mercedes were developing the Dual Axis Steering (DAS) system. The German manufacturer surprised everyone with the concept which allows the drivers to alter the toe angle of the front wheels by pushing or pulling the steering wheel.
Ocon spent 2019 as Mercedes’ reserve and simulator driver before signing a contract to race for Renault this year. His contract with Renault meant that he wasn’t allowed to the factory in the latter part of the season when he believes the team developed DAS.
Speaking to Canal+ France, Ocon admitted he knew nothing about the system: “Guess what, I didn’t! I swear I didn’t! Either they were very, very clever and didn’t show me the effect of the system or they came up with it very late and designed it once I was gone, once I was stuck between Renault and Mercedes.”
“After the end of the season, I wasn’t allowed to go back to the factory, I wasn’t allowed to come back and work on the simulator. Either it was then or they were very clever.” However, says its more likely that they came up it when he left.
Ocon is convinced the concept was tested in the simulator, where he spent long hours throughout the year before it hit the track in Barcelona.