Australian Grand Prix organisers – as well as the Victorian sports minister – insist that the season opener in Melbourne, due to be run next week, will go ahead despite the increasing concern surrounding the situation surrounding the coronavirus.
With the recent announcement of the cancellation of the MotoGP season opener in Qatar, there has been mounting speculation as to the status of the Australian Grand Prix. With the Chinese Grand Prix already postponed – and potentially cancelled – as well as rising problems regarding the disease within Vietnam, concerns regarding the Grand Prix in Melbourne are not unjust.
Teams such as Ferrari and AlphaTauri have expressed concerns regarding travel restrictions and other health-related factors heading into the 2020 season, due to the scale of the coronavirus outbreak in Italy.
This has caused headaches not just for Ferrari and AlphaTauri, but also Formula One tyre supplier Pirelli, who are based in Italy. Alfa Romeo and Haas (based in Switzerland and the United States/United Kingdom) also have close links to Ferrari, further adding to woes.
Andre Westacott, chief executive of the Australian Grand Prix said that the status of the race would be determined by the government. But at this time, neither the government nor Formula One Management have given any indication that the Grand Prix would be postponed – or even cancelled.
“We take guidance from the chief medical officers in Australia and ultimately from government,” he told reporters. “Government and health officers will look at things medically and economically and assess risk.”
Formula One chief executive, Chase Carey, told reports that the three opening races in Melbourne, Bahrain and Hanoi would go ahead.
But Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto has stressed that the teams will need assurances, as well as exact information regarding the coronavirus situation before leaving for Melbourne.
Team personnel arriving into Bahrain for the Formula 2 and Formula 3 testing this week had to undergo medical checks at Bahrain International Airport before being let into the country. People arriving from Italy have been under close watch given the situation with the disease in the region. A similar setup will most likely be put in place for when teams head to Bahrain for the second round of the Formula One World Championship.
Travel plans have been thrown into disarray because of the outbreak. The Italian teams are having to reschedule their flights to Melbourne, and some of the personnel didn’t even return to Italy after pre-season testing had concluded. Honda engineers will not return to Japan before the Australian Grand Prix – instead staying in Europe.
Speaking with AUTO ACTION, Scuderia AlphaTauri Honda team principal Franz Tost said “Everything is changing hourly, and this makes it difficult. From our side, we had to change all the flights to Australia because most of our flights were booked via Singapore or Hong Kong or Dubai. It was not easy and the process is still going on. In the factory we had to send out information to the people how to behave; travelling is reduced; we don’t want to have visitors. Also at the test (in Spain) visitors who were coming from the red zone in Italy were not allowed to come.”
With the situation with the coronavirus outbreak escalating every day, it will be an anxious wait for those who are waiting for the season opener of the 2020 Formula One World Championship.