The cancellation of the Australian Grand Prix just hours before practice was scheduled to start has led to widespread condemnation of the sport but officials have hit back.
At the drivers’ press conference on Thursday afternoon, the mood was frosty towards the F1 hierarchy with Lewis Hamilton leading the charge.
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When the topic of coronavirus came up, the six-time world champion savaged governing body FIA for the decision to bring the drivers to Melbourne and not postpone or cancel the race early.
“I am very, very surprised we are here,” he said. “I think it’s great that we can have races, but for me it’s shocking that we’re all sitting in this room.
“There are so many fans here already today. It seems like the rest of the world is reacting, probably a bit late, but already this morning we have seen (Donald) Trump shutting down the borders from Europe to the United States. The NBA is being suspended and F1 continues to go on.”
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Lewis Hamilton was openly critical of the F1’s handling of the Aussie GP.Source:AAP
Pushed further, Hamilton continued to say that he wanted everyone to stay safe, use hand sanitiser and take precautions but finished with a pointed message for the F1.
“Cash is king, but honestly I don’t know. I can’t really add much,” he said.
In the early hours of Friday morning, an hour after the Victoria Government said fans would not be allowed to attend the event if it went ahead, the FIA pulled the plug on the race, around 10am local time.
The FIA had maintained a confusing silence on Friday morning despite reports it would cede to the demands of teams who did not want to go ahead with the race in Melbourne.
Several teams and drivers voiced their concerns at a crisis meeting on Thursday night after McLaren withdrew from the season opener when a team member tested positive for coronavirus.
After a weekend of getting trashed, the F1 tried to hit back with CEO Chase Carey criticising Hamilton’s comments.
“I guess if cash was king, we wouldn’t have made the decision we did today,” he said.
“I’ve sort of addressed it in many different ways, so I can keep saying the same thing. In hindsight, obviously things look different. There were events that evolved, situations that changed.
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F1 CEO Chase Carey was frustrated by Hamilton’s choice of words.Source:Getty Images
“We made a decision which, given the lead time to come here, hold the event, at a point in time where major events were being held here, with a different situation in the world. (This was) as the situation changed day to day, in some ways hour to hour.
“Obviously we continued to evaluate that, and make the appropriate decisions going forward. I do think we were trying to digest a lot of different information to make the right decision at the right time, and I think we did that.”
But Motorsport.com has reported a late-night phone call between the CEO of Daimler — Mercedes’ parent company — Ola Kallenius, and Mercedes F1 boss Toto Wolff saw the event cancelled.
The report says there was a meeting between F1 teams and F1 managing director Ross Brawn and FIA president Jean Todt, and it was agreed the season opener would rely on what a majority of the teams wanted to do.
Article 5.7 of F1’s Sporting Regulations states: “An Event may be cancelled if fewer than 12 cars are available for it.”
McLaren had already withdrawn and Ferrari had made it clear it didn’t want to race with Sebastian Vettel already booked on a flight out of Australia.
Renault and Alfa Romeo were also in the “no” camp. Mercedes, Red Bull, AlphaTauri and Racing Point all wanted to race, while Haas and Williams said they would do what the majority wanted.
Brawn cast the deciding vote with the agreement Friday’s practice at least would take place.
But the phone call with his boss convinced Wolff to pull the plug on the race and effectively shut down the weekend.
Motorsport.com reports Kallenius relayed his concerns to Wolff about carrying on in the face of coronavirus and the Mercedes chief changed his tune, saying afterwards he didn’t think the race should go ahead.
Toto Wolff’s call ultimately decided the Australian GP’s fate.Source:Getty Images
Mercedes letter to the FIA read: “This race cannot go ahead as planned. Our team will therefore begin pack-up preparations at the circuit this morning.”
With that move, five teams were now prepared to walk away and the race was off.
F1 bosses were slammed for their lack of direction but have since been quick to move more races.
Grands Prix in Bahrain and Vietnam will be postponed and with four races now either cancelled or postponed, F1 says it expects the season to start in Europe at the end of May but the situation will be “regularly reviewed”.
The F1 has been hammered for the lack of clarity across the weekend with F1 journalists taking aim.
If you are confused about the status of the Australian F1 GP, join the club 🤔
What astonishes me is that there has been no advice issued to those of us working in F1 about what we should do now. Should those of us who have had any contact with McLaren personnel self-isolate? As it stands, nothing. Priority surely should be to minimise the spread?
This is all F1 and FIA have to say.
Shambolic. Absolutely shambolic. Zero guidance. Zero actual information. https://t.co/uYlGV3PEqU
This is one of the most laughably shit and meaningless statements I've ever seen. https://t.co/sbqMnBosYA
Speaking in an exclusive interview withSky Sports’ Martin Brundle, Brawn believes the 2020 season will kick off and F1 will scrap the mid-year break to make it a “17-18 race” season starting in May.
“Maybe we take a hiatus, we take a pause — and then we use that opportunity to say right, for this time at the beginning of the year we won’t have any races, we’ll look at relocating those races later in the year,” Brawn said.
“I think by freeing up the August break, we give ourselves several weekends where we can have a race. And I think we can build a pretty decent calendar for the rest of the year.
“It will look different, but it will still preserve a good number of races, and they’re exciting races. So the season’s going to start later, but I think it will be just as entertaining.”
With the much tighter schedule, Brawn also said the sport may consider two-day weekends so it can squeeze racing across three straight weekends, rather than back-to-back weeks, as teams haven’t been keen on the schedule in the past.
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