Australian GP defends late call to cancel, hopes to reschedule

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Australian Grand Prix bosses have defended the late decision to cancel this year's event on Friday morning.

As some were preparing to sleep ahead of the first practice day of the new season, news emerged from McLaren that a team member had tested positive for the Coronavirus and they would therefore withdraw from the race.

That triggered a night of meetings and communications between race organisers, local health authorities, F1 teams and Liberty Media to decide on the next course of action.

Some five hours after McLaren's announcement, reports emerged saying the GP would be cancelled after teams voted in favour of doing so, however, it wasn't until less than two hours before Practice 1 was due to start, with fans queued up at the gates, that the official decision was made.

“To our race fans, I’d like to say we’re terribly disappointed that the event can’t go ahead,” race chairman John Little said at a press gathering shortly after.

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“The reasons for that are well known, and I’m sure there’ll be questions about that shortly. 

"From the Australian Grand Prix point of view, I just want to say sorry to our fans. The health and safety and welfare of teams and people, and the community generally, has to take precedence and it will and has.

“We are very conscious of our responsibility to the fans,” he added. “We knew they were trying to get through the gate.

“We were still taking advice from the medical officers and that was up until around nine o’clock-ish. We understood this concern was out there, but we really needed to speak to Formula 1, FIA again in the morning.

“We had discussions through until about 2:30 in the morning. We reinvigorated those discussions early in the morning and the final conclusion was reached when the press release went out and our fans at the gates were told accordingly. So I don’t think it would have been possible to do it any more quickly.”

Though organisers admitted work would begin to dismantle the circuit infrastructure around Albert Park, they haven't ruled out attempting to run the race later in the year.

“It’s important we used the word ‘cancellation’ because of the imminency of the timing of it,” Australian GP CEO Andrew Westacott said.

“[It was] important to make sure that the fans in Melbourne at the gate knew that it wasn’t a postponement for some period of hours or days: the word ‘cancellation’ was used deliberately.

“But in F1 you never say never. We have been working on the here and now with Chase (Carey), the FIA and F1, and we will work though matters but we haven’t started thinking about future staging or anything like that but it will happen in the fullness of time.”