'It was going ahead': Extraordinary new details in Australian Grand Prix farce

Sam Goodwin
Sports Editor

New details are emerging about the circumstances that saw the Australian Grand Prix cancelled and why it took so long for organisers to confirm the news.

Following confusion over the race's status ahead of Friday's practice, organisers finally called off the F1 season-opener at 9am (AEDT), saying it was based on an update received from the Victorian government's chief health officer.

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“I want to express our disappointment on behalf of the fans,” F1 CEO Chase Carey said.

“(But) in many ways this is an unprecedented situation. I have never lived through anything like this.

“You have to digest (information) and make the decision you think is right, and I think we did here.”

Renault driver Esteban Ocon wore a face mask ahead of the Australian Grand Prix. (AAP Image/Michael Dodge)

It has since emerged that organisers were keen to push on with the event even after multiple teams expressed their intentions to withdraw.

According to motorsport.com, a last-minute phone call between Daimler CEO Ola Kallenius and Mercedes boss Toto Wolff “changed the fate of the Australian Grand Prix”.

After McLaren withdrew from the Grand Prix when a mechanic tested positive for coronavirus on Thursday, the remaining teams gathered to discuss how to proceed.

The event would only be cancelled if a further four teams withdrew, with F1 bosses keen to go with what the majority wanted.

Ferrari were firmly of the opinion that the race should be cancelled, with Sebastian Vettel already booked to fly home by the time the official call was made.

Toto Wolff and Lewis Hamilton at the Australian Grand Prix. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Renault and Alfa Romeo were also reportedly against continuing, however Mercedes, Red Bull, AlphaTauri and Racing Point wanted to race.

Haas and Williams reportedly vowed to go with the majority view, but with McLaren already gone it was effectively a 4-4 tie.

“With an effective tie, it was decided that (F1 boss Ross) Brawn would have the casting vote in deciding which way things would go – and he was in favour of going through Friday at least before assessing the situation further,” according to motorsport.com.

“That motion was officially carried and teams left the meeting believing the event was going ahead.”

However a phone call from Kallenius - head of Mercedes’ parent company Daimler - convinced Wolff to join the ‘no’ camp.

Kallenius reportedly expressed his concerns to Wolff and that convinced the Mercedes boss to withdraw.

Mercedes later wrote to the FIA, saying: “This race cannot go ahead as planned. Our team will therefore begin pack-up preparations at the circuit this morning.”

Motorsport.com is also reporting that promoters were also keen to see the event forge ahead, even without the Grand Prix.

“Who pulled the final trigger was important here though, as if F1's commercial right holder acted unilaterally then that risked losing the massive race fee paid to it by promoters,” the report says.

“At this stage, Australia's promoters were still intent on going ahead with the weekend – even without the grand prix. But at 9am on Friday morning, it was informed that F1 intended to cancel things.

“In parallel, the medical advice from the Victorian government came through that in light of the coronavirus outbreak, no spectators would be allowed in to the track.

“This meant that there was now effectively no choice but to call the event off.”

Dutch Grand Prix set to be latest victim

The coronavirus outbreak continues to affect the world of sport with the Dutch Grand Prix set to be the next race pulled from Formula One's schedule, the PA news agency understands.

There were conflicting messages as to when the new F1 season might start after this weekend's curtain-raiser in Australia was cancelled, with subsequent races in Bahrain, Vietnam and China postponed.

F1's governing body, the FIA, issued a statement to indicate the campaign could get under way at the beginning of May - in time for the race in the Netherlands.

F1, however, said the end of May is now the target. And it is understood that the Dutch round, scheduled for May 3 will be postponed. Official confirmation is expected at the start of next week.

It is hoped that the Zandvoort race, which returns to the calendar after an absence of 35 years, could be moved to August, with the sport's traditional summer break scrapped.

The Spanish Grand Prix, due to take place a week after the race in the Netherlands on May 10 is also set to be called off. It is unclear whether it will be rescheduled.

The majority view of the sport's travelling circus is to delay the campaign until the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, pencilled in for June 7, at the earliest, with the possibility of as many as 18 races crammed into six months.

with AAP