Formula 1 managing director of motorsport Ross Brawn believes that the 2020 Chinese Grand Prix could still go ahead, albeit probably at a later date in the year.
The race is currently scheduled to take place on April 19, but the venue in Shanghai is only about 800km from where the coronavirus outbreak was first detected in the city of Wuhan.
A decision earlier this week by the Shanghai Sports Federation to recommend that the city suspends “all sports events until the epidemic is over” appeared to mean that the F1 race was now all-but certain to be cancelled.
International athletics, football, skiing, tennis and basketball competitions in China and Hong Kong have already been cancelled, postponed or rescheduled as a result of the growing global epidemic that has now infected 28,018 people and claimed the lives of 563.
The ABB FIA Formula E ePrix in China has already been cancelled, and Chinese driver Ma Qing Hua and engineers from the NIO 333 team have opted to undergo a voluntary precautionary period of quarantine by flying to Mexico early for the next race on the calendar.
“It is a tragic and very difficult situation,” Brawn told selected media representatives including Motorsport.com. “It looks very difficult.”
However he added that that there was still a hope that the F1 Grand Prix could eventually take place once the health emergency had abated.
“I think that if there is a probability it doesn’t happen in April then it will be postponed,” Brawn said. “We will leave open the opportunity to see if the race can run later in the year.
“China is an enthusiastic and growing market, so we’d still very much like to have a race in China.
“We will just try to find a window of when the race could happen towards the end of the year.” he added, while ruling out the possibility of a straightforward swap of dates with another race on the calendar.
However there are no obvious openings in the schedule that would avoid the unpopular option of running back-to-back-to-back race weekends.
And extending the season into December is also likely to be resisted by teams who will have their hands full preparing for major rules and regulations changes being introduced for 2021.
But despite the current bleak news, Brawn stopped short of formally confirming that April’s race would not go ahead in its current form.
“We’re waiting for the Chinese promoter and authorities to make the final decision – which I think they will,” he said.
“They’ve cancelled all the public events in March, meaning no public sporting events or activities.
“I think it’ll become clear in the next week or two what’s going to happen,” he continued, adding that shipping dates would be a major factor.
“There’s two logistical deadlines,” he explained. “One is when all the sea freight goes, which is this week or next week.
“But that’s not disastrous if that shifts and has to be brought back,” he added.
“Then we get into the physically putting people over there. That’s a big challenge with people going there to prepare for the race. That’s a critical stage.
“That will happen in two or three weeks time. I think that’s the point at which really you have to say what the situation is.”