PARIS — Formula One CEO Chase Carey apologized to fans Tuesday after the season-opening Australian Grand Prix and other early races this season were canceled because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Amid chaotic scenes in Melbourne on Friday, fans were waiting at the gates to watch the first two practice sessions of the race when the late decision was made to finally postpone it. By that point, even with thousands of fans outside, teams were packing up inside the paddock.
“We apologize to those fans affected by the cancellation in Australia, as well as the postponement of the other races to date,” Carey wrote in an open letter to fans on the F1 website. “We also want to extend our thoughts to those already affected, including those in the Formula 1 family.”
The late decision to cancel the race hastened after McLaren withdrew because a team member tested positive for the COVID-19 illness. Even before the cancellation, Mercedes sent a letter to the FIA and F1 requesting it be called off and had commenced preparations to leave.
The Bahrain and Vietnam Grand Prix races quickly were postponed. Bahrain was scheduled to begin on Friday – at an empty track – and the inaugural Vietnamese GP in Hanoi on April 5.
On Monday, tire provider Pirelli said one of its staff tested positive for the virus and was undergoing treatment in Melbourne. McLaren said the employee who tested positive “is recovering well and the symptoms have gone.”
For most people, the virus causes 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. The vast majority of people recover.
With the Chinese GP on April 17 already canceled in February, the first four races are off.
The season could start in the Netherlands, at the Zandvoort track outside Amsterdam, on May 3, or later in May at either the Spanish GP on May 10 the Monaco GP on May 24.
F1 can gain back some time by scrapping its traditional midseason break, which lasts for four weeks.
“We recognize everyone wants to know what comes next for Formula 1 in 2020. We cannot provide specific answers today given the fluidity of the situation,” Carey said. “However, we plan to get the 2020 Championship season underway as soon as it’s safe to do so. We are engaging with experts and officials on a daily basis.”