Australian Grand Prix chief lifts lid on cancellation farce as coronavirus hits F1 season

Australian Grand Prix chief Andrew Westacott says the “perfect storm” unfolded as the season-opening race in Melbourne was cancelled due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Thousands of fans had already arrived at the Albert Park circuit on Friday March 13 when the entire weekend was called off just hours before free practice.

The cancellation decision came after extended talks behind the scenes involving race organisers, F1 chiefs, the FIA, team bosses, local authorities and the state government.

The late nature of the call, long after it had been discovered the deadly coronavirus Covid-19 had made its way into the paddock, has drawn fierce criticism.

Australian Grand Prix Corporation chief Westacott has now lifted the lid on what went on as, what became a farce, unfolded.

“If you look at the landscape five days earlier, there was 86,000 people going to a cricket game at the MCG,” Westacott told the Below the Bonnet podcast. “We were right on the cusp with the Grand Prix, and then a week later people have got the ability to cancel events into the future.

“The timing was probably the perfect storm, but it was anything but perfect for all of the teams, whether it’s Supercars or TCR or the staff at the Australian Grand Prix Corporation, our sponsors and the fans that were outside the gate when lots of decisions were being made.

“We had to take input from the chief health officer, who is part of the Victorian government under the Department of Health and Human Services. That particular individual feeds up into a cohort of chief health officers around the country.

“The FIA is involved. The teams are involved. Formula 1 is involved. The Victorian government is involved and then there’s timezones that aren’t necessarily conducive to making decisions when we had the event going on the Thursday, but things changed overnight. That’s why there was, sadly, some frustration from the fans at the gate.

“There were a number of different scenarios. There are considerations of whether you go ahead without Formula 1, or whether you ultimately take all the inputs. And we, at the end of the day, took all the inputs.

“But all of these things had been compressed within an hour or three and unfortunately you’ve got to decide a complete outcome before telling people. We had to advise the right things to people at the right time. That’s the way it panned out.

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“We certainly knew that there were the views of the teams [by Friday morning], but those are things that need to be ratified and finalised via discussions with the FIA and Jean Todt and Formula 1 and Chase Carey. And one of the things was Chase Carey was on plane from Vietnam at the particular time this was all happening.

“The nights were getting later and later and therefore the amount of sleep was getting shorter and shorter. The last call and communication was about 2:30 on Friday morning, got some sleep until about 6, and then we were back into it.

“The thing I was upset for was the fans, the race participants, and the staff and suppliers. They all wanted to open up the house and show it to the world, and then had it ripped out from underneath them.

“The toll on this is not only event time, but there’s lots and lots of suppliers that will do it tough because of the events industry in Victoria and nationally that’s been decimated. That’s why the emotion came out, I was thinking about the people I love working with. You build a bond.”

The Australian Grand Prix was the second on the F1 calendar to be cancelled due to coronavirus after the race in China and the meets in Bahrain, Vietnam, Holland, Spain, Monaco and Azerbaijan have since been called off.

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