The 2020 Australian Grand Prix that was scheduled to open the F1 World Championship has been officially called off by F1, the FIA and the Australian Grand Prix Corporation.
After an evening and an entire night of uncertainty, a decision was finally reached between all parties who released the following joint statement:
"Following the confirmation that a member of the McLaren Racing Team has tested positive for COVID-19 and the team’s decision to withdraw from the Australian Grand Prix, Formula 1 and the FIA convened a meeting of the other nine team principals on Thursday evening.
"Those discussions concluded with a majority view of the teams that the race should not go ahead. Formula 1 and the FIA, with the full support of the Australian Grand Prix Corporation (AGPC) have therefore taken the decision that all Formula 1 activity for the Australian Grand Prix is cancelled.
"We appreciate this is very disappointing news for the thousands of fans due to attend the race and all ticket holders will receive a full refund and a further announcement will be communicated in due course.
"All parties took into consideration the huge efforts of the AGPC, Motorsport Australia, staff and volunteers to stage the opening round of the 2020 FIA Formula One World Championship in Melbourne, however concluded that the safety of all members of the Formula 1 family and the wider community, as well as the fairness of the competition take priority."
According to reports, F1 teams organized a vote late on Thursday on whether to race or not, with the result initially split down the middle 4-4, with Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, Renault and McLaren (by default) opting not to race while Haas and Williams abstained.
But Mercedes' Toto Wolff, after receiving a call from the mothership in Stuttgart, broke rank and swayed the vote in favour of a cancellation of the event, leaving the two Red Bull teams and Racing Point in the minority.
While a semblance of clarity on the issue was offered by the teams, positions were hardly as straightforward and clear-cut across the table between F1, the FIA and the Victorian government (the promoter of the event), with the trio - who should have known better - reportedly locked all night in a legal and political power battle to decide who would be left holding the bag in the event of a cancellation.
Clearly no one wanted that liability and its unclear who will be picking up the bill in the end.
In hindsight, the writing was on the wall from the outset for F1, with McLaren hammering in the last nail in the coffin of the Australian GP on Thursday when it decided to withdraw from the event after one of its team members tested positive for the coronavirus.
But the lack of foresight and communication on the part of all parties - F1, the FIA and the organizer - and today's belated decision to call off proceedings represents a case of shameless mismanagement from those at the helm, and one which the local fans, left stranded and clueless at Albert Park's gates on Friday morning, likely won't forget.
While an entire country - Italy - was put on lockdown this week and sporting events around the world were being postponed or cancelled left and right, it was business as usual for Formula 1 which took a reckless gamble that has unquestionably inflicted big damage on the reputation of commercial rights owner Liberty Media and its tone deaf leaders.
F1 and the FIA will now turn their attention to the fate of the upcoming Bahrain and Vietnam Grands Prix. Hopefully with more diligence and expediency.
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