Start, Albert Park, Melbourne, 2019

F1 monitoring potential threat to season-opening Australian Grand Prix from major bushfires

2020 F1 season

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Formula 1 Management is monitoring the potential threat to the season-opening Australian Grand Prix from serious bushfires which have killed 25 people.

The fires have struck in several states including Victoria, whose capital Melbourne is due to hold the first race of the 2020 F1 season on March 15th. Around 2,000 homes have been lost in the country, 200 of which were in Victoria.

F1 has confirmed it is monitoring the situation, including the air quality in the city. Haze from the bushfires has seen the official classification of air quality in Melbourne deteriorate from “very poor” to “hazardous”.

Daniel Ricciardo, Australia’s only Formula 1 driver, Lewis Hamilton and Esteban Ocon are among those who have expressed sympathy for those affected by the fires on social media and urged their followers to donate money to those affected by them.

If the race cannot go ahead on its planned date, rescheduling it may prove difficult. Australia is a remote destination for the European-based championship and the 2020 F1 calendar features a record 22 races, leaving little room for other rounds to be added. The race takes place on a temporary course, causing significant disruption to the use of Albert Park, and Australia has no other circuits with the necessary FIA Grade 1 licence to hold F1 races.

Last November’s Rally Australia was cancelled due to bushfires in New South Wales. However the organisers of the Bathurst 12 Hours, which takes place at the Mount Panorama Circuit in the same state, have said their event on January 31st will go ahead.

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Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...
Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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45 comments on “F1 monitoring potential threat to season-opening Australian Grand Prix from major bushfires”

  1. In that scenario, the season would start in Bahrain and end in Abu Dhabi featuring 21 races as per the last two seasons. There’s, of course, no way the Australian GP could take place at a different time given the other GP-slots, the location, and the lead-time required. The latter is also why any non-current venue could replace Melbourne as the preparation time would be too insufficient to get everything ready in time. It’d just be one less race than initially planned as happened in 2011, so wouldn’t be the first time, but I’m entirely positive everything will go ahead as planned.

    1. With the way things are looking in the Middle East, the season could start in Vietnam and end in Brazil.

    2. The well heeled of F1 might want to donate money to help fires services, Victims and infrastructure.

  2. The race takes place on a temporary course, causing significant disruption to the use of Albert Park

    I’m always impressed how well oiled the build-up is, and personally find the disruption quite minimal
    I can still do my parkrun around the lake (inside the circuit) on the Sunday before the race, and still drive on the track on the Wednesday (you see the cars arrive in crates).
    Even the golf course is only closed for 2 weeks before the race.

  3. Even at worst the air would be no different than a standard Chinese Grand Prix race.

    We’re also talking March, by that time anything could happen up to and including the current fires having run out of things to burn.

    The main risk would be if a new set of fires started west or north of Melbourne. Something that is always a risk every summer. Also East winds are actually rare in Melbourne which is the direction of the current fires.

    1. I don’t think this will be a problem, because by mid-March I believe most of the fire season is over in Australia anyway. Unless Melbourne itself catches fire, which is unlikely due to the tireless efforts of the Australian fire services in protecting the cities and anything else they can protect.

  4. The Albert park course needs some revision to make it more suitable for entertaining F1 racing.

    1. @megatron I’d personally leave it exactly as it is because it’s a great track IMO & the only alterations that keep been brought up would simply ruin the track IMO.

      It’s a challenging circuits that has a great flow which a majority of the drivers have always loved. Fine it hasn’t always produced the most action packed of races but not every circuit should need to. Adding another boring slow corner that add’s nothing in terms of flow, challenge or ‘fun factor’ just because modern fans have become far too obsessed with constant action should not be a consideration.
      This is how so many classic circuits have been utterly ruined the past 10-15 years with once fun, challenging sections been turned into slow, dull nothing corners that are not fun to drive, not fun to watch cars driving through, not challenging & been devoid of any character.

      It’s becoming a tiresome trend that I just want to end so we can get back to circuits designed to be a challenge rather than cookie cutter action zones.

      1. Disagree, turns 1 and 3 at least need to be tightened up to create better passing opportunities. Possibly T13 as well. Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is a much better park/street track with similar limitations, but yet much better execution.


        Your claims of “cookie cutter” are unsubstantiated nonsense. Albert park is just not good for F1 racing.

        1. @megatron Turn 1 as it is currently is a nice corner so I wouldn’t change that at all. Making it tighter would just turn it into yet another boring slow chicane that’s not especially interesting or challenging. Right now it’s a fun little fast sweeper that offers a good challenge where we regularly see drivers make mistakes due to the speed you can carry through it.
          I’m also not sure making T13 any tighter would improve things as it’s already fairly tight. I think a change that may help things there would maybe making it a bit wider through the apex so it’s more possible to run side by side which may make an outside pass a little more possible.

          I also wouldn’t do anything until after 2021 because if the 2021 rules work as F1 believe then in theory we should get better racing without needing gimmicks like DRS or butchering circuits.

          I think with me i’ve just become tired over the past 15-20 years of seeing good circuits that have a nice flow to them altered in the name of better racing which usually does nothing but result in good corners been turned into boring, uninteresting straightforward slow corners that offer no real challenge. The Bus stop at Spa, T10 at Catalunya, Varianta Alta at Imola, T1 at Nurburgring, Final sector at Magny-Cours, Rascasse at Monaco, 1st 2 chicanes at Monza & the final chicane at Suzuka are all corners/sections of circuit altered for overtaking with the changes all ruining corners that used to be far better than they are now.

          1. They didn’t ruin any corners. This “flow” you speak of is a made up construct of your mind. If you like “flow” so much you should abandon watching F1 and switch to only oval racing, they have plenty of “flow” for hours on end. F1 tracks need a variety of hard braking into slow corners, fast corners, hairpins, switchbacks, etc. Fast “flowing” corners do not give any opportunity for passing which Albert park is desperately in need of. CGV is a good track, Albert park is not, it needs an improvement, and now.

            2021 rule changes will help cars get closer, which will facilitate passing on the straight, but it will do little to improve sise by side racing in corners. Albert park is doomed to more boring processions until it is improved.

            Albert park does not have the run off space to allow corners like Silverstone has which gave us incredible side by side action, so it only make sense to tighten up the corners that follow high terminal speed straights, specifically T1, 3 & 13. Those changes will drastically improve the track while leaving it’s original character intact.

          2. @megatron I think they have ruined many corners/sections of circuit.

            Turn 10 at Catalunya used to be a nice sweeping open corner that was challenging on the exit due to turning, accelerating & going uphill. Now it’s just a boring nothing hairpin.

            The old Bus Stop at Spa used to be a wonderful tricky little chicane where you had to throw the cars over the kerbs while trying to balance the throttle. Use too much kerb cost you time just as using too little did. Now it’s just a boring straightforward chicane, Same could be said of the 1st 2 at Monza & Variante Alta at Imola.

            They took corners that were interesting, challenging with relatively unique characteristics & turned them into boringly slow, uninteresting straghtforward corners that are in no way as good as what they replaced. Something even the drivers of the time complained about.

            I’d much rather enjoy watching cars tackle a genuinely interesting & challenging corner like the old Bus Stop at Spa than having the current boringly uninteresting version even if the new version is a better passing spot. It’s just so boring to watch cars navigate & offers zero of the fun challenge of the old one & the same is true with every corner they have modified in the name of the low attention span fans who need 100 passes a race.

    2. @megatron Not at least before the 2021 race.

      1. Now, the last 10 years of racing at albert park have been dismal. The 2021 reg changes will do nothing to help that. It is that track which is poor for F1 racing, similar to Monaco. Changing the cars will do little to improve the poor show there.


        1. @megatron There are plenty of races at Melbourne which indicate it’s not purely the track that has led to some of the poorer races there the past few years.

          1996/97/99/00/02/03/05/06/08/09/2010 were all very good races & I 2011/12/13/14 weren’t that bad either.

          Albert Park is a circuit i’ve always liked & it’s always been one that popular with drivers so I personally hope it stays in F1 & isn’t altered. Especially with all the talk regarding changes been on changing turns 11/12 which I think are probably the 2 best & most demanding corners on the circuit right now.

          1. Like I previously said, I think T1 & 3 should be changed, not 11/12.


  5. We’ll have to wait until the Australian Open later this month first… that’s the first major international event in Australia, and it also takes place in Melbourne.

    That being said, it’s secondary to current events… I hope this catastrophe ends soon, best wishes to Australian people.

  6. There’s got to be no chance of the race being cancelled due to bush-fires. 20km’s of built up suburbia surround the track. It makes sense for these kind of headlines about the Bathurst 12 hour which is surrounded by bushland, but for the F1 race it doesn’t make much sense at all. Albert Park would be one of the safest places in Australia right now.

    1. Yes, the fires are terrible, but there’s really no chance a race in the middle of the city, well removed from the fires will be cancelled. For most Australians, live goes on as normal, albeit with a little more smoke.

    2. Thank you, as an Australian who lives in Melbourne I came here to say just that, practically zero chance of the F1 race being cancelled due to bushfires. This article is unnecessarily alarmist, that said the bushfires are a big problem in rural regions and I would hope we are on top of them by March.

    3. +1, including RatSack. The air quality has been nowhere near as bad here compared to Canberra and Sydney too (ok not that great Monday, but seems all cleared now – for the moment).

      1. @travis Sydney’s air quality was terrible, but it has improved considerably now. And if Melbourne is better than what Sydney is currently, there is absolutely no reason as to why the race shouldn’t go ahead.

    4. I guess the question came up and the company had to give some kind of reaction “we are looking at the situation carefully” – also it provides a good opportunity to say you feel for the people it affects @skipgamer, @travis.

      As you say, the track is not somewhere that would be first affected, and it’s still months away.

    5. There are more factors to consider than just whether the circuit itself is on fire though.

      What is the flight path for the medical helicopter from the circuit to the designated receiving hospital? How much fire, how close to the city, would it take to disrupt the viability of the flight?

      Can availability of the necessary hospital facilities be maintained if an incident with mass injuries occurs?

      What fire appliances and personnel does the circuit need on standby and can these be kept on standby without limiting the resources available for fighting bushfires?

      Are key air/sea/road transport routes sufficiently free from disruption from smoke, evacuation traffic, emergency service use, that the relevant equipment, personnel and spectators can get to the circuit on time?

      I’m not saying any of this makes a cancellation likely but there are a good number of ways that an event that temporarily repurposes lots of public resources could fall under strain if a city has a separate, unprecedented challenge it has to deal with. It would be silly of the organisers not to study these risks and keep a watching brief on anything that might cause them problems if they just tried to go ahead with race.

      1. The track is in the inner city and less than 1km from the hospital. The fires are hundreds of kms away.

        1. Hopefully that means the need for a medical helicopter is waived for this event. Otherwise the stark comparison of distances isn’t very easy to intiuit. The smoke from these fires is showing up on visible-light satellite images as far as the Argentinian coast and changing the sunsets in New Zealand.

          The location of the fires currently isn’t that relevant either if there are vulnerable areas nearer the city. Obviously the CBD isn’t going literally have a wildfire inside it but Melbourne also isn’t hundreds of concreted kilometres across. Given that the existing fires span not hundreds of kms but thousands, the relevant question is how close could they get?

          And then, where does the infrastructure for tackling these fires come from. I wouldn’t be surprised if much of the current effort draws on resources based in the city, hundreds of kms away or not, simply by virtue of population concentration. For this to go on without disrupting the GP we need to know that none of those people or their equipment would be involved in the F1 operation if not for the wildfires.

          1. Helicopters are not needed if the route from the track to the hospital takes less than 20 minutes on average in the conditions expected during the race, given the predicted weather and expected traffic management (some races have special traffic management just during race weekend – Silverstone is a notable example). Given that race organisers typically have police-escorted ambulances (you can thank Sid Watkins for that idea), pretty much any hospital within 10 km of a given track will be considered within this limit. Exceptions if the roads are really bad or if there’s a temporary issue such as a road closure or bad traffic management involved.

            Note that this is supposed to be continuously checked. If there’s a mid-race mass protest (for example) that results in all the roads to the local hospital getting cut off/becoming super-slow, and there is no helicopter available (for example, due to skies being obscured or no anticipated need for the helicopter) the medical director is supposed to tell the race director to pull out a red flag (or, in exceptional circumstances such as Fuji 2007, a Safety Car) until such time as conditions improve.

            I can’t comment on the effects putting resources into the firefighting in Victoria might have on firefighting equipment being available for private use. If it was truly incompatible with running the race, either the FIA or the track would call it off – but I suspect they would try alternative methods of covering it first (for example, by asking assistance from units not rated for bushfires and/or not needed for bushfires at that specific weekend). So we probably won’t know until close to the time if that turns out to be the showstopper.

    6. The problem may not be how the air quality affects the engines, but how smoke may affect visibility. I live in Auckland, NZ, and we get “smog” from the Australian bush fires. On Sunday (5th Jan), over the course of a few hours, the sky went from normal to a yellow hue, and the sunlight was so diminished that the streetlights at our local park came on at 5 pm (NZ is in summer time, and has Daylight saving). So the problem could be lack of visibility or insufficient illumination of the track.
      I don’t know how bad it is in Australia, but if a similar occurrence were to happen in Melbourne, F1 wouldn’t know this until maybe a few hours before a session, e.g. FP2, Qualifying, etc, starts.

  7. I live in Melbourne. The fires are more than 200km away from the track.

  8. Meh. Can’t see the fires raging for 2 and half months.

    1. Haven’t they already been raging pretty long though @david-beau. And compare to other places where bushfires/forest fires have been more or less ongoing for probably half a year to some extent

      1. @bascb They have, but it’s now the middle of the fire season. Mid-March is near the end of the fire season, so most likely, all or most of the bushfires will have been put out by the concerted efforts of Australia’s fire services by then.

  9. I was going to be in Australia(Sydney) in middle of Dec but cancelled my trip due to bushfires. Apart from my work I was planning to go out herping but most of the sites my friends had suggested were burning.

  10. Kellen Gray Australian
    8th January 2020, 4:44

    This is complete garbage. I live here…. fires are 300km away.
    F1 are not being honest here, there is no risk of Bush fires in Albert park melbourne CBD….. at all…. What f1 fail to tell you is there concern that there is a decline in tourisim this summer in Australia meaning less tickets for the opening event…

    F1 this is your perfect opertuinty to stop being a selfish organisation and give back to country’s who host your profits .

    Do the right thing.!!!!

    1. @Kellen Gray Australian It reminds me of the Japanese MotoGP of 2011. The organisers said they were monitoring radiation levels following the Fukushima nuclear disaster. In reality they knew they had never, and were never going to be, high enough to prevent the race, due to the distance from the accident and prevailing wind direction during the critical period. (To wit: at the highest level recorded between Fukushima and when the announcement was made, the radiation involved was between a quarter and a fifth of that involved in a CT scan – something MotoGP riders routinely don’t complain about when they break bones. By the time of the announcement, months before the race, it was below the local threshold for “safe”). However, publically declaring that they were monitoring it helped allay the fears of some of the panicking MotoGP paddock members. Funnily enough, nobody mentioned the matter in the weeks leading up to the race…

  11. At the end of the day, who cares if the Grand Prix goes ahead… there are things going on in Oz at the moment that are far more important, the money spent on the gp would be better spent helping victims of the fires. I’m an massive F1 and have been for a long time, I’m super excited for the new season but I’d rather see all efforts going towards helping get the bushfires under control and rebuilding people’s lives.

    1. I’ve got to say that I agree, despite how unpopular an opinion it might be.

      And setting up this fuel-guzzling circus in the wake of this disaster seems in poor taste.

    2. Totally agree, F1 needs to tread careful these days or it’s days will be numbered. All their talk about becoming carbon neutral is utter tosh as well.

  12. F1’s too cynical for this. Moreover, we have to endure the neverending PR of the Chinese who are the worst polluters ever, so I really doubt this factor will really impact on the Australian Grand Prix.

  13. To stand up for Keith and Dieter, yes the fires are quite a way away, but surely we should be applauding whoever had the genius idea to say “oh, we’re planning a big event in the same state as the massive fires… probably wouldnt be a bad idea to keep an eye on that”.

    They are not cancelling the race, they are monitoring the situation, including air pollution. Yes, china may be worse but that is a separate issue that should detract from the impact in Australia.

  14. Perhaps they also need to monitor what is going on in the Middle East as well. Probably far riskier attending F1 there than in Melbourne.

    1. I’m sure the Bahraini and Emiriti circuit owners are already doing so. True to form, Liberty won’t worry about Bahrain for at least another month.

  15. I am sure Imola would love to do a round if the middle east is no go could run in it in April as well too

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