It is no surprise that there are strong doubts the Formula 1 season will begin in Melbourne in March.
By MARK FOGARTY
Quarantine requirements for those allowed into Australia under international sporting exemptions were always going to be a stumbling block.
Forcing F1 personnel to isolate in Melbourne for two weeks beforehand is impractical and, more to the point, unacceptable to the teams.
If the Victoria government maintains its hard line on the 14-day quarantine mandate, the AGP won’t happen as scheduled from March 18-21.
The latest COVID-19 outbreaks in Sydney and Melbourne and the resulting renewed border closures further complicate the outlook for the AGP – and other scheduled early season local motorsport events.
Amid concerns about a new Sydney sourced spread of coronavirus in Victoria, the Andrews government is more determined than ever that re-opening to international events is strictly controlled.
The delayed Australian Open tennis tournament is only going ahead – for now – with visiting players, officials and support staff quarantining for two weeks from January 15.
The only concession is that players are allowed out of their hotels for five hours a day to practise at Melbourne Park. Their movement will be rigorously controlled and monitored.
The Albert Park organisers, F1 and Motorsport Australia were hoping the sport’s well-established health protocols would allow a more relaxed – but still confining – approach for the AGP.
They have been negotiating a fly in, fly out approach with isolation from landing to departure over six days.
F1 personnel would be limited to controlled corridors between the airport, hotels and the track, where the F1 paddock and pits would be in a ‘bubble’ separated from the rest of the track precinct.
It is now unlikely that compromise will be accepted, especially with COVID-19 rampant in the UK and Italy, the bases of all but Switzerland’s Alfa Romeo (née Sauber).
For the moment, Spring Street and the AGP organisers are putting on a positive, if not brave, face.
“Discussions between the Australian Grand Prix Corporation, the government and Formula 1 management about the F1 calendar for 2021 are ongoing,” a Victoria government spokesman said.
“As part of those discussions, the government will continue to prioritise public health considerations while protecting our major events calendar.”
In a statement, the AGPC added: “The Australian Grand Prix Corporation continues to work closely with the Victorian Government and Formula 1 on conditions and arrangements relating to the staging of the Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne in 2021.
“Further detail will be provided upon finalisation of arrangements with all parties in the coming weeks.”
There is up to a month before final decisions have to be made and during which the situation could change for the better – or worse.
While there is talk of the AGP being postponed until later in the year – as there was after last year’s 11th hour cancellation – that almost certainly wouldn’t happen.
The only practical seasonal alternative to March in Melbourne is November or December, which would be difficult because of F1 and local sporting schedule clashes.
The flow-on effect of the AGP’s ‘postponement’ would be disruption to the Supercars championship, due to hold its second round on the Albert Park undercard.
However, local COVID conditions allowing, Sandown is in reserve and could take over the March 20-21 slot.
But Supercars’ scheduled start at Bathurst at the end of next month is also under threat if the widening NSW outbreak isn’t contained within the next month.
As things stand, Melbourne- and southeast Queensland-based teams could enter NSW, but not be able to return.
There is a more imminent concern about ARG’s Race Tasmania double-header at the end of this month.
Victoria and Tasmania are closed to NSW, locking out two key TCR teams – HMO and Wall Racing – and a majority of TCM and Trans Am competitors.
As previously warned, until a viable coronavirus vaccine is administered to the majority of the population, the pandemic will persist, and restrictions and intermittent lockdowns and border closures will continue into 2022.
Get used to on-going uncertainty about major sporting events – and life in general – because COVID-19 is not going away in a hurry.
Short of isolating every state and territory, once again, there will be outbreaks and flare-ups until the vaccine/s establish ‘herd immunity’.
We are, unfortunately, stuck with an uncertain future for some time to come.
Racing should happen more frequently – and ultimately in front of meaningful crowd numbers – as the year progresses, but be prepared for disruptions and changes along the way.
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Date posted: January 5, 2021