Formula 1 chairman Chase Carey and head of motorsports Ross Brawn have explained the process behind today’s last-minute cancellation of the 2020 Australian Grand Prix.
Ticket holders were already lining up at the gates of the Albert Park Circuit for Friday morning free practice when the official announcement was made that the race was being called off.
But despite criticism over the 12-hour delay in making the decision on whether or not to proceed with the race, Brawn defended the steps that had been taken and the ultimate call to postpone.
“We were very keen to have the race,” he told the official Formula 1 website. “It’s a very positive event. We wanted to kickstart the F1 season.
“It is a great race with great fans and a wonderful weekend. We have a big impact on the economy here and it has an impact on our economy as well.
“Formula 1 has to function, we have to make it work so we looked at the whole situation and when we decided to go, we looked at the different dynamics.
“Probably what has surprised everyone is the rapid expansion of this problem,” he admitted. “The escalation of new cases, certainly in countries like Italy, where it’s gone almost vertical. No one could have expected that.”
Brawn said that he had been in constant communication with senior figures in the sport about the progression of coronavirus, including consulting Ferrari’s team principal about the situation in Italy.
“I have spoken to Mattia Binotto many times in the last few weeks. His mood changed in the last five or seven days, from what he was seeing in Italy.
“We were on this ship that sailed and we were optimistic we could get through it, that we could get Formula 1 started and just bring a bit of relief in difficult times.”
However that all changed when one of the McLaren track personnel working at the track tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday, forcing the team to unilaterally withdraw from the event.
“Once we had the positive case, once one team couldn’t race because of that, clearly we had a problem we needed to address,” Brawn concurred. “Having one case with 14 people having to go into isolation, that effectively knocked that team out of operation.
“We had mapped out with the health authorities what would happen if we had one case, five case, ten cases,” Brawn continued. “But what you never know with those cases is what the association is with the people around.
“If that one case had been someone with a different profile, different responsibility, it might not have impacted a team that much. There are certain things you can spend forever predicting and you’ll never know what is going to happen.
“In reality, we found the case, the person who was positive in the paddock. That is the credit to the authorities. They were identified, they were tested, the procedures worked.
“There was consultation with the teams, the medical authorities, the FIA and the promoters here,” he said. “It’s not a total autocracy as in we just can’t make a decision.
“I’ve been up all night. We had so many issues to work through. We had to get the teams together again and hold a meeting. It all takes time,” he stated. “We have so many factors to take into account. I think we did a pretty good job of reaching the right conclusion with so many stakeholders involved.
“We’re talking to the FIA, which is in Europe on a Europe timezone, and we had to speak to Jean Todt,” he added. “It was a pretty stressful period. Considering we dealt with everything in 12 hours – for something that important – was good.”
For his part, Carey agreed that his team on the ground had performed well in the crisis. He himself had been out of contact at the crucial period as he was flying into Melbourne following meetings in Vietnam about the maiden Grand Prix there which has now also been indefinitely postponed.
“I think we’ve made the right decisions, I think we worked well with our partners,” Carey said. “I think we’re all disappointed to not have [the race], but these are challenging times and I think we’ve made the decisions we have to make.
“It was a joint decision between the FIA, our Australian partners, ourselves, and certainly input from the teams. As would be expected, there were a range of views,” he added
“We were dealing with things real time in a very difficult challenging situation. Were there differing views and differing opinions? Yes. I think that’s what everybody tried to wrestle through.
“But I think we got to the right place, and I think we all agree we got to the right decision.”