Conclusions from the Australian Grand Prix

Date published: March 17 2020

Australian Grand Prix

No racing, but that did not completely stop the chaos in Melbourne where some are coming away with a better reputation than others.

Right decision, wrong execution

In these unprecedented, extraordinary times, absolutely nobody would have envied the very difficult position that the FIA, Formula 1 and the race organisers found themselves in.

The criticism that came their way is not because of the (correct) decision they eventually took, rather the communication process and ultimate execution of that decision is where the governing bodies are rightly being placed under scrutiny.

The staunch ‘show must go on’ mentality adopted throughout the past few weeks highlighted naivety which then festered into arrogance and greed in a world that was rapidly placing itself on lockdown in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

It perhaps comes as no surprise that the two sports organisations most reluctant to shut down were the Premier League and Formula 1, both needing to be hit by a direct impact to be forced into appropriate action.

For Premier League football, it was Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta testing positive for the virus; for Formula 1, it was a McLaren team member having to fall ill. People’s health and safety has now been put first, but for a worryingly long time it was money. Cash was indeed king as Lewis Hamilton was not afraid to put it.

As soon as McLaren implemented immediate action by pulling out of the race, Formula 1 should have followed suit. Maybe not one, two hours after, but certainly not 12 hours in where pretty much everyone was left in the dark as to what was going on because of minimal communication, allowing huge crowds to gather outside Albert Park for a second consecutive day. There was simply no room for compromise.

Thankfully, the FIA and Formula 1 did show some actual signs of authority as postponements for Bahrain and Vietnam did follow swiftly after the Melbourne debacle.

However, that decision was not without more ineffective communication.

There is enough hand washing going on already without needing to do it again after every facepalm moment that came our way over the weekend.

Leading by example

But, in the midst of some inefficient leadership and ineptitude, there has been some positivity to counteract the negativity. First and foremost, McLaren deserve a whole lot of credit for actually taking the spread of COVID-19 seriously in the first place.

They led by example by being the first team to implement restrictions by banning any personnel who had visited China in the last 14 days from entering their facilities at pre-season testing in Barcelona.

Then, as soon as it was confirmed that a team member had contracted the virus in Australia, they immediately pulled out of the race. No looking for compromises or ‘what ifs’, they said from the outset, too, that people’s health and safety first. The only difference being they have been absolutely true to their word throughout.

And, since McLaren’s decision, there have been other snippets of information that have warmed our hearts. From team principal Andreas Seidl staying behind in Melbourne in solidarity with those currently in isolation to other team members going out to buy game consoles to keep their colleagues occupied, those stories of compassion are ones we can all learn from.

Also, a special mention must go to Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen taking matters into their own hands and getting on pretty much the first flight out of Melbourne to go back home. Two wise men.

That news conjured up some wonderful imagery as to how exactly they came to that decision. We’d like to think that not a word  was spoken between them prior to Seb knocking on Kimi’s door to suggest leaving, only to find his former Ferrari team-mate had already packed his suitcase with two tickets ready.

Where do we go from here?

So, with the first four races on the 2020 calendar postponed, cancelled, however you want to phrase it, we are all now back in the land of the unknown.

Do we start racing in the summer with no breaks and a condensed calendar? Do we run a complete calendar over the course of next 18 months or so and push back the technical regulations overhaul to 2022? Do we go racing at all?

At least the FIA and Formula 1 do have something now which they did not have on the eve of the Australian Grand Prix weekend: time. Time to create some effective alternative plans for the season once we do get back to some semblance of normality, whenever that is.

The one thing that the governing bodies need to do, though, is take a page out of McLaren’s playbook. Take decisive action and lead by example. If teams cannot agree between them whether to go racing or not during an actual pandemic (the split 5-5 vote that happened in the early hours of Friday morning continues to baffle), can we actually trust them to agree on absolutely anything?

Liberty Media could do with borrowing Bernie’s iron fist for a while before returning to a more democratic ruling process.

Mark Scott

Follow us on Twitter @Planet_F1 and like our Facebook page.