No way to warn fans earlier that Australian GP was off, says promoter

2020 Australian Grand Prix

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The Australian Grand Prix promoter says there was no opportunity to give fans more warning that the race was going to be called off.

Gates remained closed to the public after the scheduled opening time of 8:45 on Friday morning amid confusion over whether the race would go ahead. Fans were then sent away when the event was called off.

Australian Grand Prix chairman Paul Little said the organisers were “terribly disappointed that the event can’t go ahead” and apologised to fans.

“From the Australian Grand Prix point of view I just were 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.”

Almost 12 hours passed between the announcement McLaren had withdrawn from the event because a team member had tested positive for Coronavirus and the race being cancelled. But Little said there was no way to tell fans sooner that the race was being called off.

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

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“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.

A McLaren team member tested positive for Coronavirus
“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.”

Little said the race was not called off until the decision was made by the chief medical officer not to go ahead.

“The McLaren test coming back as a positive test was obviously something that needed to be addressed medically,” he said. “The medical people met overnight in relation to that: Who that individual had contact with, obviously the impact on the McLaren team was going to be very significant there to, and there were some other events medically evolving around the world.

“That I think led to the decision for the medical officer to change his view about being able to run an event today versus not being able to run an event today. So it was pretty clear-cut and all the way through this we haven’t question the input from that critical source for us.”

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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...
Dieter Rencken
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  • 19 comments on “No way to warn fans earlier that Australian GP was off, says promoter”

    1. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again – once they decided to have the meeting on Thursday evening, what they should have done is immdiately announce that Friday was closed to the public – so no audience/public attendance for FP1 and FP2.

      That would have given them the time on Friday to finish up their meeting, and make a decision to open the gates on Saturday or call the whole thing off.

      I know people will say that it’s easy to say this in hindsight, but no – any event manager worth their salt should have basic contingencies like this at the tips of their fingers.

      1. I believe it was Mercedes that is in part to blame. On Thursday night they voted to play on, thus tipping the vote. Then on Friday [?] they switched sides and voted not to play, thus tipping the vote the other way towards leave [source Saward]
        In any event, handlebar moustache showed us that his talents do not lie in leadership of a large business/organisation.

      2. Agreed @phylyp – if they didn’t want to do that, they could have very easily put out a statement asking patrons not to arrive early as they gates would not be opened, if at all. That would have at least ensured that they didn’t get the mess at the gates.

    2. It’s probably worth also acknowledging that this response from them is understandable – once you have insurance – and potentially lawyers – involved, you don’t really want to go about admitting liability, or admitting having made an error. That’s the normal and decent response, but it will get you in trouble. It’s no different from how our auto insurers ask us to not say “whoops, my bad” if involved in an accident.

      So yeah, as much as it might annoy us to hear the promoters or Brawn say “we couldn’t have forseen it”, that’s what they’ve been advised to say. Given their experience, it is likely to have become second nature to them!

      1. Agree with both your posts. Their response has been legally sound I have no doubts. The trouble is fans aren’t legal experts nor do they care for the legal nuances. They want clear, simple and timely communication and they were let down. As others have suggested there are many ways that they could have done this and they failed to.

        I watched that press conference and it was very cringy. Its obvious that Chase is happy to tell fans how they should react to this rather than listen. He thinks they managed it well which in my opinion shows how out of touch he is with those that keep the sport alive.

        1. @antznz – Yeah, that press conference was amusing to watch. Carey sounded rather stressed out as well, and Masi felt out of place. But it was essentially spin, an attempt to get ahead of the inevitable firestorm of (deserved) criticism.

          Also, for us fans closely following the event, it is patently obvious that they’re taking liberties (pun intended) with the truth, but for anyone outside of that atmosphere (e.g. the financial analysts who issue buy/sell recommendations), such reassuring statements of confidence and action help sell a tale.

          I mentioned yesterday that the rapid announcment of the cancellation of the Bahrain & Vietnam rounds was in part to also ensure that headlines ended up focusing more on these proactive cancellations rather than the shambolic handling of Australia – once again, a bit of spin and headline management, apart from an admirably timely decision.

          1. @phylyp completely agree with all of it. The world is a messed up place when shareholders are the target audience of announcements for fans. I wonder if this virus might give us the reality check we need to snap out of the money gazing trance we have been in for the last few decades? I’ve been following the Boeing debacle and pleasing stock holders first has really come back to bite them. To me it seems obvious that the best thing for any business is to put the customer first…

    3. There are only two words in response to this. The first is Bull, work out the 2nd without me getting moderated!

    4. Fans should have realised it wasn’t happening hours before the announcement when Vettel and Raikonnen had already bailed the country.

      1. I mean, who can believe what when social media was rife with rumours and utter lies like the photo of Hamilton “leaving at the airport”, which was a 3 year old photo.

        Also I was still willing to go and watch some V8, F5000 and TCR action had they not decided that fans simply couldn’t attend. I wasn’t in the queue as I only had sat/sun tickets, but I’d still have gone if it had continued.

        1. Fair enough i suppose its difficult to know whats ‘real life’ these days given the nonsense that goes viral online

    5. I’d like to think most people will be at least a little lenient. These are pretty unprecedented circumstances. As soon as I woke to the news that McLaren had pulled out, I thought it pretty likely the event would be cancelled and so decided not to catch a train into the city while I waited for further news. Gladly the decision was made for me well before the time I’d have needed to leave to get there in time for FP1. Of course it sucks for those that travelled from afar and booked hotels and so on but it’s good to see they’ve learned from the experience and proactively cancelled events well in advance.

    6. GtisBetter (@)
      14th March 2020, 12:31

      “We were undecided until the start of the event, because of bad FOM leadership, bad preparation, tunnelvision and apparently FIA/FOM has no emergency contact, even when a GP weekend has started, that is why we couldn’t tell the fans in time that is was cancelled.”

      1. @passingisoverrated: Well stated. Don’t expect a job offer in Liberty’s PR spin department too soon.

    7. I was almost certain they would cancel the event many days before they actually did. You can’t have all other sporting events cancelled, but proceed with F1 races. That would not be only dangerous for public health, but also such a terrible PR and would draw so much hatred against F1. So if I knew this would’ve happened, how come they didn’t? They could warn the fans earlier and make the right decision earlier, being desperate not to do something doesn’t mean that something prevented you from doing it. This was a shameful reaction and you have ruined the reputation of your own organization. And yet, you cancelled the race anyway. 0 points to you.

    8. Rubbish. If the media knew 8 hours earlier then so could the paying punters.

    9. How could we when the head of the Australian Grand Prix was still saying it was on at 9am? There was still no word from F1, FIA nor the teams.
      The media was reporting contradicting information. Sky was saying it was on while pulling the telecast.
      A mechanic from AT told the truth on Twitter that he was going to the track to pack at 8:30 but then was order to de-activate his account.
      What I want to know is if it was cancelled for OH&S reasons, then why do the worse OH&S practice by cramming people into the closed gates for close to an hour. Surely, that totally negligent given that they knew the truth that the race would be cancelled eventually.

    10. I’m just happy it wasn’t me saddled with the responsibility.

    11. Carey had disappeared off Vietnam and I reckon he was asleep until his plane landed in Aus on Friday morning. Once he finally arrived at the circuit, the discussions could begin. Carey comes across as a ducker & diver, who grabs a piece of paper and tells everyone he’s off on an important mission when the poo is heading his way.

      Vietnam wasn’t important, Australia was.

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