13 Mar 2020
It should go without saying that the Formula One community made its best effort to go racing and start the season as normal in Melbourne.
However, we face an extraordinary and unprecedented global situation that outweighs any single, let alone seasonal sporting event.
Following the news that a member of the McLaren team had contracted COVID-19 and their subsequent withdrawal from the race it was only a matter of time that the rest of the dominoes would fall.
Navigating the various pitfalls to the point of cancellation was not an easy one and whilst there seemed to be an unacceptable communication latency, where no official word was conveyed by either the governing body or commercial rights holder, it was for good reason.
First and foremost the Australian governments guidelines for dealing with COVID-19 hadn’t yet precluded large gatherings, obviously an essential factor when attendance was expected to exceed 300,000 over the course of the weekend.
Put simply, if F1 had said ahead of time it wasn’t going to arrive in Melbourne, they’d have been undermining government advice and put them on dubious footing not only with the Australian authorities but also many others around the world- A difficult tightrope to walk.
The WHO categorization of this virus as a pandemic leading upto everyone’s arrival clearly changed the complexion of the threat but, with the sports entire traveling contingency now in transit it was a little difficult to imagine them turning tail.
However, in the wake of the McLaren withdrawal a meeting, which involved representatives from the teams, FIA and FOM, was conducted and reportedly concluded in 50% of the teams admitting that they too wanted to withdraw from the event.
Of course, this left the FIA and FOM in an a position where it must now take a decision that would go directly against government advice but arguably one they should have made earlier, in order to safeguard everyone involved.
The lack of communication from the FIA and FOM during this phase was the single most annoying factor.
Over 10 hours passed between McLaren’s announcement and the official cancellation confirmation. This is not acceptable! Even if they’d only issued a release to allay fears, explaining that they were in a consultation phase, but no, nothing.
I have friends and colleagues in the paddock and none of them knew what was going on and became reliant on their inner sources. This is a situation that led to conflicting stories emerging in the British media.
Whilst I’d been told by several of my own sources that the race was off, SKY sports ran with an opposing narrative.
Shortly after the BBC ran a story that the race was off and led to a groundswell of disdain on social media platforms, as they took aim at the media for rushing to report.
In an age where information can spread quicker than the virus itself, the FIA and FOM’s communication vacuum was far from ideal and perhaps lessons can be learned here*.
Understandably the lines of communication have since eased and we now know that Vietnam is officially postponed (although I already understood this to be the case, but all parties had decided to wait until the first race was over to announce it) and Bahrain, which was already to be raced behind closed doors now has a postponed status too.
This puts Zandvoort at the head of the queue for the season opener, but there’s question marks over whether that will even be possible at this stage. It’s a very fluid situation, one that has various moving variables and whilst FOM do their best to manage the situation and placate the various teams, drivers, circuits and even fans, there’s still more questions than answers.
Formula One is not on its own in this regard, most of the sporting world is now on an a hiatus, as we try to limit human interaction on larger scales.
And, whilst there are those that don’t believe in the threat level of this virus, it must be at least obvious that our expansive use of global travel has been a factor in the spread of COVID-19.
*It is an interesting aside that FOM’s head of motorsport press office - Luca Colajanni, has recently left his post and returned to Ferrari