After the 11th hour cancellation of the Australian Grand Prix (as fans were queuing at the gates ahead of FP1) as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic, two further Grand Prix have been cancelled/postponed (depending on who you ask) making four in total – Australia, Bahrain, China and Vietnam – the first four Grand Prix of what was scheduled to be the longest F1 season in history.
The season is now due to begin either at the beginning of May (Holland) or the end of May (Monaco), again – with conflicting information being released by F1 and it’s governing body, the FIA.
That it took the withdrawal of McLaren from the #ausgp when one of its number contracted the virus to prompt F1 into action, with everyone in place and poised for the weekend, without so much as an official statement until an hour or so before the first F1 session of the weekend was due to start (with a number of drivers already about planes home apparently) reflects how pitifully the situation was handled.
I can understand the desire to allow the Grand Prix to go ahead if at all possible, however, in allowing preparations to go ahead as planned, and doing nothing to prevent the enormous swell of people to the area, they’ve behaved irresponsibly and threatened the wellbeing of thousand of people, both directly and indirectly.
It would seem that none of the parties involved – Formula 1, the promoter or the state – were prepared to accept responsibility for its cancellation and therefore foot the bill as a result, and so a game of chicken ensued with each of them hoping the other would blink first.
And so, we find ourselves four GPs down, minimum, with the likelihood being that another three could too fall by the wayside, with the championship starting in Azerbaijan in June.
Because of the tight scheduling that allowed Liberty to shoehorn 22 races into the 2020 season there aren’t many opportunities to reschedule races that are cancelled, save for the summer break (August) or the end of the season (December). Quite how willing Abu Dhabi would be to give up their ‘last Grand Prix of the season’ status that they agreed with Bernie to allow other races to go ahead in December remains to be seen.
So we’re staring down the barrel of a 15 race Grand Prix season, just two more than the minimum required to constitute a Grand Prix championship.
The Coronavirus is a disaster for businesses everywhere with billions being wiped off valuations globally and F1 is no exception losing over two and a half billion dollars (!) from its stock since the turn of the year.
It’s disastrous handling of the Australian Grand Prix cancellation won’t have helped public perception that it cares solely about the ££ and little else, and so it’s losing the PR battle as well as the financial one.