Formula One bosses are set to delay the start of the new season until June after the Bahrain and Vietnam Grands Prix were postponed.
The sport’s traditional curtain raiser at Melbourne’s Albert Park, due to take place this weekend, was officially axed on Friday following McLaren’s withdrawal from the event after one of their mechanics tested positive for coronavirus.
Next weekend’s behind-closed-doors race in Bahrain, and the inaugural round in Vietnam’s capital Hanoi, which had been pencilled in for April 5, have since been called off.
It is understood that the 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.
As it stands, the season is due to end in Abu Dhabi on November 29, but the PA news agency now understands that the race could be pushed back until December to allow room for next month’s already postponed Chinese Grand Prix, and the race in Hanoi to be squeezed back into a rejigged calendar.
The Dutch Grand Prix, the first in Holland for 36 years, is due to take place on May 3, but that might now be moved to August, with the sport’s customary summer break scrapped. As many as 18 races might be staged in six months.
The historic Monaco Grand Prix, set for May 24, could become the sport’s biggest casualty, while there may also be no room for the races in Bahrain and Spain. There are no plans for the round here in Melbourne to be rescheduled for later in the year.
“The scale of this is massive,” said F1 motorsport boss Ross Brawn. “We want to try and build the Formula One season back up, but we have to be realistic when that can start again.
“The teams survive on their funding from races. Each race you lose, it has an impact.
“There is a strong resilience in Formula One and we have got plans to rebuild the season and try to accommodate as many of the lost races.
“People need to show tolerance in terms of how we build the rest of the year, and the teams are in the right place to understand this necessity.”
The new campaign was thrown into chaos in the early hours of Friday morning after the teams decided against staging the race in Australia.
Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes team originally called for the race to go ahead during the opening round of voting.
But the world champions changed their minds following a tense meeting involving the sport’s team principals and Brawn in a downtown Melbourne hotel.
Red Bull, their sister team AlphaTauri, and Racing Point had been happy to press on with practice on Friday.
An official announcement was then delayed until after 10am local time. There was confusion as thousands of fans gathered outside the Albert Park venue with Paul Little, chairman of the Australian Grand Prix corporation, telling local breakfast television that the race would go ahead. The word then arrived that the grand prix had been scrapped.
Six-time world champion Hamilton, who had already been deeply critical of the sport’s move to head to Melbourne, welcomed F1’s decision.
“The reality is, this is really serious with people dying every day,” Hamilton, who left Australia on Friday, said on Twitter.
“Lots of people [are] ill and even if they are not ill, many people [are] being affected financially and emotionally.”
Fourteen McLaren staff have been placed into quarantine after coming into contact with their infected colleague, who tested positive for the virus on Thursday night.
All returning members of Hamilton’s Mercedes race team meanwhile, will not attend their HQ in Brackley over the next fortnight to avoid the potential of passing on a disease which has killed more than 5,000 people.