Albert Park, Melbourne, 2020

Should F1 race on despite Coronavirus? Seven Australian GP talking points

2020 Australian Grand Prix

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The 71st running of the world championship is due to begin at Albert Park in Australia this weekend. But could F1’s presence in Melbourne do more harm than good due to the spread of Coronavirus?

Following the shortest amount of pre-season testing to date the teams, many questions hang over the performance of the teams. And this being F1, there is no shortage of political intrigue either. Here are the top talking points for this weekend’s race – give us your views on them in the comments.

Should F1 be racing?

While ever more sporting events and major races in other series have been postponed or cancelled due to the threat of Coronavirus the Australian Grand Prix promoters have made it clear: The season-opener will go on as planned.

This followed a significant comment from Formula 1 motorsport director Ross Brawn, who claimed that if any team is unable to race due to Coronavirus restrictions, a ‘world championship race’ cannot be held. That leaves the door open for non-points races to be run, but the expectation at present is the race will go ahead with all 10 teams. Whether any of them have been compromised by Coronavirus restrictions remains to be seen.

The Bahrain Grand Prix organisers have already announced that their race will take place ‘behind closed doors’. But the race in the desert attracts a much smaller crowd than this round, which saw a six-figure attendance on Sunday last year. F1 has issued updated guidance on how it will try to contain the risk of the virus being transmitted at its events.

Formula 1’s great strength is the international community it draws on to build and race its cars But that very global nature is its great weakness when it comes to a virus like this, and many will inevitably be questioning whether it’s wise for the show to go on at the moment, and how much longer it can expect to.

For now the race is scheduled to go ahead but the premier of Victoria, of which Melbourne is the state capital, has indicated sporting events could be played behind closed doors if there is a rise in person-to-person transmission of the virus. The first such case was reported in the state yesterday.

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FIA and Ferrari vs the rest

Ferrari, Albert Park, Melbourne, 2020
Ferrari’s power unit has been under scrutiny
In an ordinary year, the seismic news that seven teams had furiously criticised a private deal between the sport’s governing body and its most famous team would be far and away the leading story. The rare intrusion of the ‘real world’ into the F1 paddock bubble has changed that, but make no mistake, the seven teams are livid over what emerged at the end of testing.

The FIA announced the findings of their investigation into the legality of Ferrari’s power unit will remain confidential. Ferrari and their customers can expect intense questioning this weekend, but the real action will begin once the one-week deadline imposed by the seven teams on the FIA and FOM for a response expires. This is unlikely to be settled quickly.

The other dimension to this is how competitive will Ferrari be this weekend, and whether any lapse in their strong late-2019 form will be pinned on changes to their power unit.

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Will 2020 be another ‘silverwash’?

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Circuit de Catalunya, 2020
Mercedes looked quick, but reliability is a question mark
Mercedes undoubtedly had the most impressive pre-season, recording the most laps and the fastest lap time across both tests. And they left everyone in the paddock speechless when their newest innovation, Dual Axis Steering, was discovered.

The only glimmer of hope offered to their rivals was the less-than-spotless performance of their power unit. Lewis Hamilton stopped once during the test and Williams suffered a series of problems which they said Mercedes were responsible for.

Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto played down their chances. It would not be surprising to see the red cars start the season third among the ‘big three’ teams.

How close will Red Bull be? They chased Mercedes home at this race last year and Honda have said they expect to be podium contenders everywhere this year.

DAS winning edge?

Once the action begins on Friday we should get our chance to see Mercedes using their curious new DAS system. At the moment, it is unclear how much of an effect the device has on Mercedes’ performance, but increased aerodynamic efficiency down the straights and better tyre wear are just a couple of the advantages that it could create.

We should learn more from observing how they use it in competitive sessions. Do they intend to use it to manage tyre pressures on qualifying out-laps? Or help tyre management during race stints?

The legality of the device may come into question. A protest from one of Mercedes’ rivals is possible, but the team insist that they kept the FIA briefed and therefore expect no problems. There are rumours Red Bull could protest. Mercedes have been conservatively-minded in this regard previously. Faced with questions over the legality of their vented rear wheels late in 2018, they chose not to run them rather than risk a protest.

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Will ‘Pink Mercedes’ lead the midfield?

Lance Stroll, Racing Point, Circuit de Catalunya, 2020
Racing Point’s all-new car was immediately quick in testing
Mercedes aren’t the only team potentially facing a legality headache. ‘Pink Mercedes’ – aka Racing Point – attract scrutiny when they turned up at testing with a car bearing more than a passing similarity to last year’s Mercedes W10. Throughout the six days of testing the car demonstrated impressive reliability and pace. But some of their rivals aren’t happy with what they’ve seen – check out the RacingLines column later today on RaceFans for more on that.

Expect McLaren and Renault to be their primary challengers. Renault were the quickest midfield team in testing, though Racing Point seemed able to turn out a quick lap whenever they chose. Both McLaren drivers weren’t completely happy with their package – and expressed some reservations about their pink rivals as well.

Will Ricciardo’s new approach at home help?

Ricciardo is yet to officially score a podium at his home race – he stood on it in 2014, but was stripped of his finish due to a technical infringement. He has targeted podiums with Renault in 2020 and there’s no better race for him to achieve one.

Following last year’s race Ricciardo said he wanted to reduce his commitments at his home race as he felt it was detracting from his performance. Will he strike a better balance this time? The race can hardly go worse than last year, when it was ruined before he reached turn one after he broke his front wing.

Who will bring up the rear?

George Russell, Williams, Circuit de Catalunya, 2020
Russell expects Williams will be at the back again
Williams were far and away the slowest team last year. The new car is a clear improvement, but George Russell expects them to still be at the back.

That may prove pessimistic, however, particularly as Haas did not look in great shape during testing. The Ferrari customers are hoping they have found the remedy to the tyre overheating problem that plagued their race pace last season.

Historically, Haas have performed extremely well at Albert Park since their first ever race in 2016 when they finished sixth. But the pressure on them ahead of their fifth season is huge following last year’s disappointment, and rumours own Gene Haas could pull the American team out of the sport entirely.

Are you going to the Australian Grand Prix?

If you’re heading to Australia for this weekend’s race, we want to hear from you:

Who do you think will be the team to beat in the Australian Grand Prix? Have your say below.

And don’t forget to enter your predictions for this weekend’s race. You can edit your predictions until the start of qualifying:

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Josh Holland
USA-based Josh joined the RaceFans team in 2018. Josh helps produce our Formula 1 race weekend coverage, assists with our social media activities and...

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41 comments on “Should F1 race on despite Coronavirus? Seven Australian GP talking points”

  1. Soulore Solaris
    11th March 2020, 7:32

    I think its hard politically for anyone to stand up to the coronavirus scare campaign. I can’t see the difference between it and every other yearly flu outbreak, 10,000s people die every year from new flu strains and they are usually elderly and people with other illnesses. people die, it happens. people get the flu, they get over it their immune system gets stronger, they move on. so by the logic of canceling public events etc, why is this not done for every fun outbreak? we would be in permanent quarantine all the time following this logic. so given the hysteria and media manipulations I think F1 is doing a good job or playing it cool and not giving in to the fear hype.

    1. Soulore Solaris
      11th March 2020, 7:33

      # flu outbreak that is.

      1. heres the CDC numbers for flu in the USA per year. not to mention all the deaths from suicide, diabetes, etc things that never get mentioned. hospitals are overrun ive heard stories that people are being kept in there longer cause of fears of quarantine, people are showing up at hospital with flu symptoms because of the level of fear they have, and yeah probably with an outbreak, just like every year the hospitals get over run. none of this seems out of the ordinary to me. media and politicians building it up. do we really allow this to destroy social life? and if they achieve that now, what happens next time? and the time after that… ? I think its good to educate people to be aware, keep away if your sick or have been around sick people, if you are vulnerable stay away. wash hands, be conscious, eat well keep strong immune system, and positive mind.

    2. I can’t see the difference between it and every other yearly flu outbreak

      It’s something like 10 to 20 time as deadly and there’s no vaccine. Pretty simple really. The only reason the total number of deaths is so low that people like you can think that it’s comparable to flu is that governments are being suitably aggressive in efforts to limit the spread.

      Panic buying is clearly hysteria and mostly unnecessary, but an entire country doesn’t go into lockdown due to ‘hysteria and media manipulations’. Italy’s hospitals are being overrun because of the number of cases.

        1. though the coronavirus will take its toll on the elderly and those with poor immune systems, “the fact is the virus itself will not likely do much harm when it arrives.”

          So a lot of people are at risk of dying prematurely, but that isn’t equivalent to ‘much harm’? Interesting take. As I said, Italian hospitals are apparently overrun.

          1. It’s interesting how many people I’ve seen say things like “it’s only the elderly and those with poor immune systems that are effected – we’ll be fine.” Really shows how little many people care about others. I guess it’s nothing new but it’s sad to see.

          2. @petebaldwin Not to mention the line about the potential economic damage from measures being taken to slow the spread of the disease. This seems to be at the heart of how decisions are being made, both in terms of F1 and the wider global response. There has to be an awareness now that there are thousands of people currently undiagnosed spreading the virus at an exponential rate. Within days the apparent severity can go from ‘very little to worry about’ to ‘hospitals cannot cope’. All in the interests of keeping businesses open.

      1. antony obrien
        11th March 2020, 11:37

        ‘people like you’ @matt90

        Pretty unnecessary but maybe you have a fever, dry cough?.

        This is hysteria, it is overblown and it will be gone by June. We have vaccines for plenty of things like measles but still 168,000 died last year because they didn’t take it. See also flu. Hospitals are always over run in winter. DOh

        1. ‘People like you’ quite obviously meaning people with the stance of the OP, not sure how you can possibly consider that to be unnecessary.

          We have vaccines for plenty of things like measles but still 168,000 died last year because they didn’t take it

          So to be clear, you’re saying that a disease even with a vaccine is dangerous, so presumably one without is worse?

        2. Thanks for sharing your comprehensively-researched epidemiological assessment 🙄

      2. “It’s something like 10 to 20 time as deadly and there’s no vaccine”

        the 10 to 20 times more is speculation, that is yet to be seen. the guy in the rogan interview is one voice amongst many and he is trying to blow his own horn and his own predictions here, so its not objective or factual. lets see in a few months if it really is 10 to 20 times more…

        1. Has yet to be seen? 10 to 20 is from the WHO based on data they collected in China. The actual number of confirmed cases vs fatalities looks like 30-50 times worse than flu, but this is indeed overblown by a lot of milder cases not having been identified. But that has been taken into account in the 10-20 estimate.

          Other than random comments online, the only person I’ve seen contradicting the experts and claiming the virus is no worse than flu or that it will probably magically disappear by June is Donald Trump. I’m concerned that people seem to be repeating this.

          For most people day to day there isn’t much to actually panic about other than observing basic good hygiene, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t serious and that more severe measures won’t be necessary, as proved by Italy. Again, the idea that an entire country would go into lockdown without good reason is utterly bizarre. The comments here downplaying the virus seem to completely forget that.

    3. George May (@grandmasterorge)
      11th March 2020, 9:03

      I can’t see the difference between it and every other yearly flu outbreak

      Please read through this thread written by an Italian medic currently dealing with the situation there.

      1. ” Finding more acute care beds is a “race against time,” Lombardy’s top health official, Giulio Gallera, said in a phone interview. “As of now the region’s health-care system is holding up well, but if the increase in the number of infected people in need of intensive care doesn’t slow down we could have issues.” – Bloomberg news

  2. My favourite race.

  3. Australia has announced a travel ban on people coming from Italy, following similar bans for China and Iran.

    My guess is that they wanted to do this last week but waited until Ferrari got here…

  4. This is not a normal flu. The mortality rate in Italy is 3.4%, which is very high. Eventually when humans begin developing some immunity (corona is almost irrelevant to younger than 50) and with vaccination (best case scenario available in 2021) it will become as a regular flu. But right now it isn’t, and it should be contained.

    I think it’s not responsible to hold an international event with public in this condition, even in a country without serious cases.

    Said that, I think all the TV events should go on (racing without public) In Europe (and in most countries) lots of people will be partially or totally quarantined at home, stuff happening on tv is a good way to keep people at home.

    1. 3.4% of tested cases. In reality its probably much closer to regular flu numbers.

      1. I think its more like .3-.5 something in the range of the flu. and all the people who don’t get tested cause the symptoms are mild or non existent aren’t calculated in this. when china started recalculating based on this fact, the percentages dropped right down. anyone seen the stock values of the big Pharma and media companies while this is all going on?

        1. 30-day change in stock price of top pharma companies by revenue:

          Johnson & Johnson (JNJ): -7%
          Roche (ROG): -10%
          Pfizer (PFE): -9%
          Bayer (BAYN): -26%
          Novartis (NVS): -14%

          Probably the stupidest conspiracy theory of the decade so far.

  5. Should F1 be racing?
    Yes at the time of the decision it was correct. We have had increase in cases since but certainly no spikes or named hot spots. But the GP has gotten through by the skin of it’s teeth with the Victorian government announcing yesterday some very big restrictions being imminent.
    FIA and Ferrari vs the rest
    Well I feel that it’s been that way for a while and will continue until the FIA gets a new president. Even if there is no bias the general perception of favouritism is present and that alone is very damaging to the sport.
    Will 2020 be another ‘silverwash’? DAS winning edge?
    I like most other fans expect a very good yr for Merc and Hamilton. But truly hope Ferrari and RB can give them a real scare. But it’s up to them to build a good enough cars and then not to make the mistakes they made last yr. I don’t want to see the rule makers knobbling Merc just because they have done a better job at designing.
    Will ‘Pink Mercedes’ lead the midfield?
    In word no. I think they will be behind Renault, McLaren and maybe Alpha Tuorie overall, they really only have one top driver to take the fight up to the rest.
    Will Ricciardo’s new approach at home help?
    I hope so like any top athlete in any highly competitive sport he needs to have a break away now and again. But in the lead up to lights go out he must be totally focused on one thing only.
    Who will bring up the rear?
    Russell is probably right in saying they are the slowest car on track. But if Haas have another bad yr and Williams has made some strong improvements it could give some good racing at the tail end.

    1. A thing I disagree with: I would like the fia to intervene to make mercedes beatable, they did that in 2005 for ferrari, not doing so would mean treating teams differently, and I’m not a ferrari fan.

  6. Never mind race. Let’s hope folks are not fighting their way out of the circuit when a few more cases are confirmed. And the fighting may spread the infection faster than a qual lap…

  7. I must say I am extremely surprised the Melbourne race is going ahead as normal, Quarantine
    applications are going to be extremely difficult to control at the circuit. Still, if all is well the race
    will lift a lot of spirits back here in Europe.

    1. @loen I admire them for it. The truth whether it was wise or not will come out in due course, and I bet it will prove to be a correct decision.

      As for F1 races being cancelled, hell no. At worst, cut out the crowds at the track. 99% watch on TV anyway.

  8. Personally I feel like the race should be cancelled, given how serious this pandemic has become. Close social interraction is the single biggest means by which viruses can spread. One contaminated doorhandle or railing could infect hundreds of people – who then go on to spread it to more themselves.

    There is no real understanding of how widespread this is; the reporting is all based on the numbers of *confirmed* cases – but for every person who has been positively tested, how many more go untested, or are in the early asymptomatic stage.

    Major events like this are the first thing that should be cancelled. But organisers and authorities are thinking about money over people’s welfare.

    1. Andrew Bedson
      11th March 2020, 12:24

      They have literally said the environmental transmission is INSANELY low, almost unmeasurably insignificant. It’s direct person to person transmission

      1. There is a lot of conflicting information about how long the virus lives on hard surfaces. This is from the World Health Organisation:

        People can catch COVID-19 from others who have the virus. The disease can spread from person to person through small droplets from the nose or mouth which are spread when a person with COVID-19 coughs or exhales. These droplets land on objects and surfaces around the person. Other people then catch COVID-19 by touching these objects or surfaces, then touching their eyes, nose or mouth. People can also catch COVID-19 if they breathe in droplets from a person with COVID-19 who coughs out or exhales droplets. This is why it is important to stay more than 1 meter (3 feet) away from a person who is sick.

        And from the same page:

        It is not certain how long the virus that causes COVID-19 survives on surfaces, but it seems to behave like other coronaviruses. Studies suggest that coronaviruses (including preliminary information on the COVID-19 virus) may persist on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days. This may vary under different conditions (e.g. type of surface, temperature or humidity of the environment)

        Even if it can’t be spread through surfaces, person-to-person transmission is highly likely in any environment where large numbers of people are grouped closely together – exactly as you have in a crowd at a motorsports event.

        1. @mazdachris I am completely with you about the concerns you have expressed, and also fully understand the concept of not having large gatherings of people. I still wouldn’t be surprised if the fans in Australia are told to stay home between now and Friday’s practice.

          What I do take issue with you on though is your attitude that ‘organizers and authorities are thinking about money over people’s welfare.’ Ultimately I think there will be far more global devastation economically than literally from the virus, when all is said and done. Of course I would never suggest even one life is worth an F1 race for example, but just don’t underestimate how devastated some people will be globally having their livelihood perhaps ended. If you are concerned about people’s welfare, then be concerned about people’s ability to buy food and support their families and keep their life long businesses from failing and leaving them poor, rather than being flippant and assuming everyone who would place their job or the economy as just as important, is being greedy and cold-hearted. People still have to survive economically too, which is why the fine line here is controlling the virus while not creating panic.

          1. @robbie The two aren’t mutually exclusive – there needs to be a robust response from governments to ensure that there is support for everyone whose ability to support themselves is put in jeopardy by the pandemic. The UK’s budget today does at least seek to address some of that shortfall but stops short in a few key areas.

            The fact is, there is resource enough to shore up people’s livelihoods whilst also taking the necessary steps to prevent the spread of this virus. Believe me, I don’t want to be flippant about this at all – there are other ways in which putting a country in lockdown harms people; charities for instance would be severely impacted if they can’t hold fundraising events, or if major public sporting challenges such as the London Marathon were cancelled. Charities often provide or support services which should ideally be provided by central government – healthcare, welfare – essential services upon which people rely day to day, often helping the most vulnerable in society.

            But when you see governments not even issuing basic avoidance advice, like encouraging people to work from home if they’re able to do so. This constant message of everything being absolutely fine can’t come from a place of ignorance, more like willfully ignoring the reality of the situation. The UK currently has as many confirmed cases as Italy did two weeks ago, despite doing fewer tests per capita. What will the situation be like in the UK in two weeks’ time? Who can say, but inarguably a far worse situation if the government continues to tell people that everything will be fine if they keep washing their hands!

          2. @mazdachris Another fair and thoughtful comment. Here in Canada it was only today that PM Trudeau dedicated a billion dollars to help those in need, but I personally feel as well and as usual with governments it will fall short in timing and compensation. Oh I would never expect they could achieve full replacement for all people in need, financially, but I think less than adequate is what I will expect for people, based on history.

            You’re so right about charities, and I have been thinking particularly of the millions who have small businesses without corporate/union support who might see their whole life’s work ended just like that. That can never be replaced. It’s not anywhere near like that here in Canada, and as I’m texting we’re feeling quite safe, and I of course know that could change quickly.

            I can’t say I can speak for any other Government’s stance on the severity of the virus than our’s and that from the occupant of the American Oval Office. I feel Canada has been amongst the forefront of getting on top of this with quick-reacting screenings ready to go as soon as the news hit some weeks ago. We (our medical community) learned a lot from SARS about 15 years or so ago, and our information on this all along has been imho excellent, clear, and up to date, but not ‘everything will be all right if we just wash our hands.’ That’s coming from the occupant’s mouth although I think he spoke tonight off a teleprompter and tried to sound a bit presidential. What we also learned from SARS is how unnecessarily and severely the economy suffered, particularly here in Toronto, not because it shouldn’t have been taken seriously for it was, but because we weren’t ready and equipped to test and screen and quarantine as we are now.

            Is it European countries that you are saying have been flippant and downplayed this? Surely that will change soon too one would think, as the numbers rise and reality strikes. But then will level off and decrease as things take their course, is the hope. So much is about the timing and the resources for testing with each country.

            My goodness and so many more people die in so many more ways every day. That in no means is meant to diminish this virus, but yeah, for us here in Canada there is some self-administered 14 day quarantining going on by those who think they may have been in contact with someone who has now been diagnosed, and don’t want to take a chance passing it along, and our other quarantining has just been from travellers coming back from Asia and Iran particularly, and that was earlier on a number of weeks ago now, but that has subsided since time has past and people’s travel habits have greatly changed and/or diminished. So for now our numbers are quite relatively low in cases and in deaths. Far far lower than regular flu bugs and many many more things. I guess all we can do is wash our hands, not touch our faces, and if we continue to not congregate, well, that has proven itself effective in China as things have settled down there. Here in Canada we are still congregating at sports events etc, but of course there is a wave of cancellations of many many events, conferences etc etc in general, here and globally.

  9. I really hope to see this Championship going on as scheduled. That would mean that our situation in Italy and what they faced in China are exceptional.

    But believe me, if something similar to what’s happening here (I live near Milan and Monza) happens in other countries, prepare to see more and more races cancelled.

    Truth is that people are saying “it’s just a flu” on one side and “it’s the apocalypse” on another. It’s neither. Thing is that everything must stop to slow the infection, to keep the rate of infection as slow as possible and to cure and save who’s sick. We can all continue as normal, but the hospitals simply can’t treat over a certain number of patients and they let them die. Guys, this is what’s actually happening here: since there are not enough beds, doctors and machines for intensive care we’re letting people die. Because we’re doing a massive DoS attack to our health care system.

    So to stay in the F1 domain, don’t expect to see just China cancelled this year, as soon as the Circus will return to Europe, other countries could be in our situation. And let’s be clear, as I said before I do really hope that other countries will learn from what we’re living and that maybe that we haven’t been particularly good in managing this issue. I fear the opposite, but hope for it.

    1. Thanks for a truthful and informative post.
      I wish you the very best and hope this situation is overcome where you are and everywhere else in our crazy world, where someone thought it was swell to eat bats in aspic.

    2. A great post, thank you.

    3. Best of luck over there Matteo. I hope your nuanced first-hand story helps to inspire others to shoot a little less from the hip here —based on personal beliefs and (politically) biased news sources. I live in one of the most developed countries in the world and I personally know a good few doctors —even the leader of our national vaccination programmes. The threat is real. Not just because of Covid-19 itself, but because of the enormous pressure it can mount on healthcare systems, the economy, supply lines and so on. I support the fact that governments and healthcare organisations try their best to contain the virus as much as possible right now. Better safe than sorry.

  10. They should not cancel the race. The worst case scenario should be that the FP’s, Q and race should be held without any public to limit the danger of the virus being spread among the public.

  11. Should F1 be racing? – Yes.
    Will 2020 be another ‘silverwash’? – No. I mean, I predicted the same title-winning combination as for the last three seasons, but I expect it to be tighter points-wise.
    DAS winning edge? – Maybe.
    Will ‘Pink Mercedes’ lead the midfield? – Maybe at the beginning of the season, but I expect either Mclaren or Renault to finish the season with that status.
    Will Ricciardo’s new approach at home help? – Hopefully.
    Who will bring up the rear? – Williams.

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