Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 8 April 2020

Coronavirus: Formula One season start could be delayed until June with Abu Dhabi finale pushed back

Australian Grand Prix already suspended and all dates under review

Formula One bosses are considering suspending the start of the new season until June after the Australian Grand Prix was cancelled.

The sport's traditional curtain raiser at Melbourne's Albert Park was officially axed just 90 minutes before practice was due to begin on Friday following McLaren's withdrawal from the event after one of their mechanics tested positive for coronavirus.

Although next weekend's behind-closed-doors race in Bahrain is yet to be formally called off, it is understood that the view of the sport's travelling circus is to delay the campaign until the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, pencilled in for June 7, at the earliest.

As it stands, the season is due to end in Abu Dhabi on November 29, but reports indicate that the race could be pushed back until December to allow room for next month's postponed Chinese Grand Prix and the inaugural race in Vietnam, currently pencilled in for April 5, to be squeezed back into a rejigged calendar.

The Dutch Grand Prix, the first in Holland for 36 years, is due to take place on May 3, but that might now be moved to August, with the sport's customary summer break scrapped. Eighteen races may be staged in six months.

The historic Monaco Grand Prix, set for May 24, could become the sport's biggest casualty, while there may also be no room for the races in Bahrain and Spain. There are no plans for the round in Melbourne to be rescheduled for later in the year.

"The scale of this is massive," said F1 motorsport boss Ross Brawn. "We want to try and build the Formula One season back up, but we have to be realistic when that can start again.

"The teams survive on their funding from races. Each race you lose, it has an impact.

"There is a strong resilience in Formula One and we have got plans to rebuild the season and try to accommodate as many of the lost races.

"People need to show tolerance in terms of how we build the rest of the year, and the teams are in the right place to understand this necessity."

The new campaign was thrown into chaos in the early hours of Friday morning after the teams decided against staging the race in Australia.

It is understood that they voted 7-3 in favour of the race being cancelled, leading F1 and its governing body, the FIA, to call off the event.

Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes team originally called for the race to go ahead during the opening round of voting. But the world champions changed their minds following a tense meeting involving the sport's team principals and Brawn in a downtown Melbourne hotel.

Red Bull, their sister team AlphaTauri, and Racing Point had been happy to press on with practice on Friday.

An official announcement was then delayed until after 10am local time. There was confusion as thousands of fans gathered outside the Albert Park venue with Paul Little, chairman of the Australian Grand Prix corporation, telling local breakfast television that the race would go ahead. The word then arrived that the grand prix had been scrapped.

Six-time world champion Hamilton, who had already been deeply critical of the sport's move to head to Melbourne, welcomed F1's decision.

"The reality is, this is really serious with people dying every day," Hamilton, who will leave Australia on Friday, said on Twitter.

"Lots of people [are] ill and even if they are not ill, many people [are] being affected financially and emotionally."

Fourteen McLaren staff have been placed into quarantine after coming into contact with their infected colleague, who tested positive for the virus on Thursday night.

All travelling members of Hamilton's Mercedes race team meanwhile, will not attend their HQ in Brackley over the next fortnight to avoid the potential of passing on a disease which has killed almost 5,000 people.

Updated: March 13, 2020 12:15 PM

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