F1 cancels season opener in Australia amid COVID-19 concern

Peter Parks/AFP via Getty Images
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MELBOURNE, Australia — The first Formula One Grand Prix of the season was canceled two hours before the first practice Friday after organizers relented to pressure to call it off amid the spreading coronavirus (COVID-19).

The decision came after six-time world champion Lewis Hamilton said he was shocked that organizers planned to proceed with the Australian Grand Prix, which regularly attracts more than 300,000 people, and McLaren’s decision to withdraw when one of its team members tested positive for the virus.

The sport’s governing body, FIA, issued a joint statement with F1 and the Australian GP to confirm the cancellation following hours of speculation about whether the race would go ahead.

FIA said a meeting overnight involving the nine remaining team principals and organizers “concluded with a majority view of the teams that the race should not go ahead.”

“All parties took into consideration the huge efforts of the AGPC, Motorsport Australia, staff and volunteers to stage the opening round, 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,” the statement said.

Hamilton’s Mercedes-AMG Petronas team said it sent a letter to the FIA and F1 requesting the cancellation and had commenced preparations to leave even before the decision was publicly announced.

“We share the disappointment of the sport’s fans that this race cannot go ahead as planned. However, the physical and mental health and well being of our team members and of the wider F1 community are our absolute priority,” the team said in a statement. “In light of the force majeure events we are experiencing with regards to the Coronavirus pandemic, we no longer feel the safety of our employees can be guaranteed if we continue to take part in the event.”

There had been two practice sessions scheduled for Friday, with qualifying on Saturday for Sunday’s GP. No fans had been allowed into the Albert Park circuit on Friday morning.

Hamilton had used the first official news conference for drivers in Australia to question the wisdom of racing this weekend.

“I am really very, very surprised we’re here … it’s shocking we’re all sitting in this room,” Hamilton said at the first official news conference Thursday ahead of Sunday’s Grand Prix. “It seems that the rest of the world is already reacting a little bit late … yet Formula One continues.”

The team denied media reports that its drivers had left Melbourne before the announcement.

The BBC reported overnight that the race had been postponed, citing two unidentified sources, but Australian Grand Prix Corporation Chairman Paul Little responded by telling Australia’s Channel 9 on Friday that the event would go ahead.

Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews said if the race went ahead, it would proceed without fans.

There were long queues of people waiting to get into Albert Park early Friday but the gates remained closed and none of the scheduled events got under way.

More than 300,000 fans regularly attend the Australian GP at the Albert Park circuit over the first four days of the season. This year was expected to be no different, despite the cancellation of some other large-scale public gatherings in Australia and around the world.

Asked why he thought organizers were persisting with the race, Hamilton said, “cash is king.”

Members of the U.S.-backed Haas team had also been in isolation but they were cleared after tests, with Australian GP organizers saying state health authorities had confirmed only one positive case in eight F1-related tests conducted so far.

There have been more than 126,300 cases and 4,600 deaths globally since the virus outbreak started in China late last year.

Most people quickly recover from the virus after experiencing only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks.

The Chinese Grand Prix has already been postponed, and the Bahrain GP is expected to go ahead at a circuit without fans.

Peacock to stream all Supercross and Motocross races in 2023, plus inaugural SuperMotocross Championship

Peacock Supercross Motocross 2023
Feld Entertainment, Inc.
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NBC Sports and Feld Motor Sports announced that Peacock and the NBC family of networks will stream all 31 races of the combined Monster Energy Supercross, Lucas Oil Pro Motocross and the newly created SuperMotocross World Championship beginning January 7, 2023 at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California and ending October 14 in the place where Supercross was born: the Los Angeles Coliseum.

The combined series will create a 10-month calendar of events, making it one of the longest professional sports’ seasons in the United States.

The agreement is for multiple years. The season finale will air live on Peacock and the USA Network.

Peacock will present live coverage of all races, qualifying and heats across both series. The 31 total races will mark a record for the combined number of Supercross and Pro Motocross events that NBC Sports will present in a single season.

NBC, USA Network and CNBC will provide coverage of all races, including the SuperMotocross World Championship Playoffs and Final, through 2023 and beyond. For more information about the Peacock streaming service, click here.

“With our wide array of live and original motorsports offerings, Peacock is a natural home for Supercross and Pro Motocross races,” said Rick Cordella, Chief Commercial Officer, Peacock. “We’re looking forward to providing fans with an easily-accessible destination to find every race all season long, including the exciting finish with the newly formed SuperMotocross World Championship.”

MORE: A conversation about media rights created the new SuperMotocross World Championship Series

The NBC family of networks has been home to Supercross for the past several seasons and this is a continuation of that relationship. The media rights for both series expired at the end of 2022, which allowed Supercross and Motocross to combine their efforts.

In fact, it was that conversation that led to the formation of the SuperMotocross World Championship (SMX).

The SMX series will begin on September 9, 2023 after the conclusion of the Pro Motocross season. Points will accumulate from both series to seed the SMX championship, which creates a record number of unified races.

“The SuperMotocross World Championship adds a new dimension to the annual Supercross and Pro Motocross seasons that will result in crowning the ultimate World Champion,” said Stephen C. Yaros, SVP Global Media and Supercross for Feld Motor Sports. “We are thrilled to be extending our relationship with NBC Sports so our fans can watch all the racing action streaming live on Peacock and the option to also watch select rounds on NBC, USA Network and CNBC.”

Complete 2023 coverage schedules for Supercross, Pro Motocross and the SuperMotocross World Championship on Peacock, NBC, USA Network and CNBC will be announced in the near future.