Toto Wolff, Christian Horner, Albert Park, 2020

McLaren “knee-jerk” and Mercedes U-turn led to Australian GP cancellation, says Horner

2020 Australian Grand Prix

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Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said he wanted F1’s first race weekend in Australia to go ahead despite a McLaren team member testing positive for the Covid-19 Coronavirus.

In a column for Red Bull’s website, Horner said Mercedes’ decision not to race or supply engines to its customer teams tipped the balance and led to the weekend being called off in the morning before practice was due to begin.

McLaren withdrew its team from the race after the positive test result on the day before practice was due to begin.

“At the time, it all felt rather knee-jerk, certainly without knowing all the facts as this was one positive case from thousands of people working in the paddock,” said Horner.

At the time, Horner was in favour of continuing with the race weekend. “I suggested, as many of us did, that we should run on Friday as planned and re-assess the situation on a regular basis.

“If people showed symptoms then they would be tested, because they were turning them around pretty quickly, and if there were any further cases then we would make the decision on whether we should continue, but at least we would have started the event.”

Despite Lewis Hamilton strongly criticising efforts to go ahead with the race even before McLaren’s positive test, Mercedes were initially among those in favour of continuing.

With the teams split over whether to hold the race, F1 motorsport director Ross Brawn called FIA president Jean Todt. According to Horner, “Todt… said he would go with the majority, so it was down to Ross as he had the final vote.

Fans, Albert Park, 2020
How F1 failed its fans in Australian Grand Prix Coronavirus fiasco
“He said he agreed with my suggestion, to do further tests and evaluate the situation in 24 hours, and he also wanted to get the event rolling.”

However the group who wanted to go ahead with the race quickly lost their narrow majority.

“Soon after the meeting had ended, I had a telephone call from Ross at around 3am, who said we had a bit of a problem because Mercedes had changed their position,” said Horner. “It also meant they would not supply engines to their customers.

“It turned the situation on its head and the eventual outcome changed. As a result, there was little choice for F1 but to cancel the event.”

Horner also used his column to again criticise calls to lower F1’s budget cap and argue for the introduction of customer cars.

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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...

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34 comments on “McLaren “knee-jerk” and Mercedes U-turn led to Australian GP cancellation, says Horner”

  1. Horner has got very grumpy during lockdown – moaning about McLaren, moaning about Mercedes, moaning about customer cars and moaning about the budget cap.

    Cheer up grumpy..

    1. Not much of a difference from normally. He did much the same in all the time from 2014 until they started to look like they could win again sometime last season @mrfill

  2. William Jones
    11th May 2020, 21:44

    It’s amazing to me how many people failed to understand exponential numbers in the build up to this thing. Those countries that locked down early have orders of magnitude less deaths than those that didn’t. It would have been the same with the f1 paddock. One person on wednesday is three people on thursday, is nine people on friday is 27 people on saturday is 81 people on sunday is 243 people on monday. All new cases would be asymptomatic with most remaining asymptomatic for the next two weekends, so it would have continued. Mercedes u-turn, no matter why it was made has probably saved a life or two in our sport.

    1. You are spot on, I live just 3 hours flying time from mainland China, lockdown and travel restrictions were put in place here very quickly when the seriousness of this virus became evident, as a result we currently have 11,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 with just over 700 related deaths, and that is from a population of 110M people.

    2. Indeed. It’s amazing how thick people are that run our countries. My country, the UK (or even more embarrassingly, England) really is topping the charts in terms of thickness and a failure to grasp exponential growth. Those of us watching in horror in early March as our governments did nothing, it was sad then and it’s even more depressing now.

    3. I guess it shows that in McLaren there are engineers and professionals at the helm of the team. And Mercedes’ current CEO is also trained to look at facts and extrapolate a trend and then decide on it.

      From what went around at the time, it seems some contact between Ferrari (top Boss) and Mercedes leadership might have contributed to the change. To me it was pretty clear that Ferrari was quite concerned and would have liked to get out of the event as soon as Corona came too close to the paddock too – can’t fault them for that – Modena is pretty close to the centre of the “red spot” in northern Italy, but maybe did not want to be the one seen to call it?

      I am glad that the Mercedes CEO stepped in to make it clear to Wolf that this was not on. And it doesn’t surprise me to see Horner talk about this as “knee-jerk” at all, It made huge sense to stop before things went completely amiss. As Foggy mentions, quick action means that so far (or as far as we are aware?) only this single person in the paddock was infected (and was it 4-5 more checked?), instead of ending up on a trajectory like what @john-h describes for the UK and England, or what we see happening in the USA or in Russia where the government acted as if nothing was going on at all for far too long.

  3. A highly contagious virus with a variable and often long duration for onset of symptoms was shown to be in the paddock of a huge traveling circus, and Horner felt McLaren behaved in a knee jerk reaction? Brown was one of the few to come out of Australia with any dignity. Thank God there wasn’t a positive case in Red Bull.

    1. Pretty much this @matt90. And Horner (and Marko) would be the one shouting out about the unfairness of going ahead without them if the race had gone along, probably suggesting Mateschitz might now bow out of the sport too.

  4. “Rent a Quote” Horner at it again. We’re not hearing much from the other teams, but he’s got the job of keeping RB in the news, so he pops up every couple days with some Berniesque nonsense. He’ll be back again before the weekend to keep the news starved F1 media happy.

  5. Poor form from Christian.

    Given that his home country hasn’t exactly covered itself in glory in terms of its handling of COVID-19, he’d be far better off keeping his mouth shut rather than sticking with the “it wasn’t our decision” line.

    Was I happy to miss out on the racing that weekend? Of course not at the time, but I respected the decision and hindsight suggests that it was absolutely the correct thing to do.

  6. No mention of the huge numbers of fans in the stands and everywhere else mingling, touching things, etc. being the reason the race didn’t go ahead? What a …. Horner is.

    1. All those fans all ready standing for the gates so i think they were not the reason to cancel.

      1. Not all. Only some. I hadn’t flown there yet. Most fans would get there later, and over the next few days. It looks like a lot of fans at the gate but it’s only a small amount of the total expected, all mixing together, some of which would certainly have come to the track already infected, considering most Australian cases originated overseas.

        I had VIP corporate tickets for the first time in my life (having been general entry for years) and lost a lot of money on cancelled last minute flights and accom, but don’t feel the cancellation was a mistake. It was just unfortunate.

  7. Horner is not the sort of boss I would like to work for.

    Inconsiderate .

    1. I cannot believe he has in the past been touted to take over the running of F1 …

  8. and by now all of them would go through the virus and be protected by antibodies and could not infect anyone else… on return from Australia and Bahrain all would be tested and in isolation…
    less threat to the public and global safety than now with all the uncertainty and ‘billion’ tests needed to do anything.

    1. William Jones
      12th May 2020, 11:21

      I suppose you can link to the study confirming definitively that the macro and cytophage cells that combine to give a few weeks to a few months of immunity from the disease precipitate the creation of viable T and B cells, and that the PRR’s and PAMPs are specific enough that autoimmune disease isn’t a significant concern? If you can’t (and you can’t, because no such study has been completed) then can you at least explain the complement system timings, such that we know that “immunity” will last, let’s go easy on you, say a year? Because, you know, that would be quite startling in a corona virus, and would definitely need to be explained, and proven before being assumed.


      Then stop pretending you understand things that you don’t.

      1. William, I’m not even going to begin to claim I understand most of your excellent post. I have to take it on face value that you know what you are talking about. I think I get the gist, (herd) immunity is unlikely, or extremely rare. Given Covid19 is a coronavirus (similar to the common cold?)

        1. William Jones
          12th May 2020, 21:44

          It _might_ be unlikely, or it might happen. Myself, I studied immunology in uni and worked for about a decade as a red cell immunohaemotologist for the blood service in the uk – admittedly that was well over a decade ago, and now I feel old!

          The point is, no-one knows, certainly not well enough to gamble human lives on, and such a gamble would be deeply unethical. If I were pressed to a guess, my guess will be that like other corona viruses, covid 19 will mutate for too quickly anyway, making the idea of herd immunity mute, in the same way that we as a world have herd immunologies for countless influenza and rhino viruses, yet we still all get colds and flu.

          But even if we knew for sure that you could contain the paddock from interacting with anyone else for the entire season, travel completely within a quarantine bubble and knew for sure that everyone would catch it, and gain this supposed immunity, we know for sure that it would cost lives in the paddock. Again, this unlikely best case scenario is still deeply unethical.

      2. G (@unklegsif)
        12th May 2020, 12:56


      3. Not sure if there is such paper or study yet. We are all learning as this is happening. Tell me in which cases my theory is not valid. percentage of types of pathogens that normal immune system won’t react to by creating viable T and B cells that last long enough? why your expertise and experience leans to the pessimistic outcome?

        My tone in the first message was a bit antagonistic. Apologies. I am hoping that my layman understanding of biology is still a bit valid and we get immunity for this nasty virus and that serum tests for antibodies can prove that.


          I will go with this at the moment. not a proof, full study but I hope that it gives hope of at least 3 years antibodies and lesser symptoms on reinfection as MERS antibodies do.

          Keep positive! Cheers

        2. William Jones
          12th May 2020, 22:16

          We certainly do get immunity for nearly every virus, bacteria etc. There are some obvious pathogens to which we develop no immunity – every prion disease as a prime example, HIV, smallpox, rabies, ebola… just google “deadly viruses” and you’ll find them. Still, most of these you would develop an immunity too, but it kills you too quickly. In some cases, it’s actually the strength of the immune response that kills you, or that the subsequent antibodies can’t differentiate between vital bits of you and the pathogen they were made to attack.

          Then you get the weird grey area cases, sleeping sickness for example.

          These are all headline grabbers though, let’s go less fantastical, more mundane. How does the common rhino virus, responsible for the common cold, cough, snotty nose, etc. How does this evade our immune response? After-all, it defiantly does – we get colds often, you don’t get an immunity to a rhino virus after catching your first cold and then never have a cold again. Rhino virus achieves this by mutating all the time, creating mostly duds, but every now and again (and remember, you get trillions of these in you when infected) one will mutate by chance into a viable new strain that your immune response to the last one you got can’t attack.

          And what about the group of infections caused by the varicella viruses, what if covid does something like that? You know you get chicken pox once, then your body creates an immune response and you never get it again… or do you? Varicella viruses are cunning, and they hide in your body. You get chicken pox, no big deal, ill for a few days and that’s it right? But some people never shake it, they can get shingles later in life. And if they come into contact with people who have never had chicken pox, they’ll stand a decent chance of giving them chickenpox!

          I worked in a lab, as mentioned above which finds blood donations for people that have complicated antibodies – you probably know that if you but the wrong ABO type of blood into someone, they will have a deadly transfusion reaction – well, the ABO system is one of over 250 different systems, and one of the simplest. You probably also know of rhesus, and might know if you are rhesus positive or negative. This is a bit of an oversimplification. The rhesus group has several different antigens, D, C, c E and e are the ones most important in blood transfusion. My rhesus group is +, which means I have the D antigen, but my full rhesus group is properly expressed as R1r’ – this means positive for the D, C and e antigens. That’s two of the groups, and as I said, there are hundreds more antigens – for example, I am Kell + – Kell being the name of an antigen, just like A or B or O or D etc. I also do not have antigens now that I did once have – I was stung by a bee when little, and later on again, having an allergic reaction. This is because I had an immune response to the bee sting. For years I carried an epipen, and I do again now. I was stung by a bee, several years ago and had no allergic reaction. The antigens to the bee venom had gone, they were no longer a part of my immune makeup. The reason why I’m giving all this rambling detail is to try to show you a fraction of how complex immunology is, and why we cannot take anything for granted about this virus. I appreciate you taking a less confrontational approach, and I hope I’ve mirrored you in this, and given you some strands to investigate if you want to learn more. Were I to write an essay here, no-one would thank me!

          We just don’t know enough about the disease yet to make any predictions that involve deliberately infecting, or deliberately allowing certain widespread infection without a better reason than sport. If we let the whole paddock get infected, deaths are an almost certainty, for a gamble on the unknown in a system of biochemistry that is not fully understood to this very day! Which would be a mute effort if the virus spawns a (another) viable mutation.

          But I like your ending, stay positive, as complex and unknown as it all is, there are some brilliant minds out there working on a vaccine, studying and understanding the virus, there is a great deal to be positive about, and some real genuine heros is every part of life, making it better for us all, or presents more comfortable and our futures safer!

          1. thanks, really appreciate the effort. I understood most of it, and I had shingles, so that part hit home.
            having any responsibly for safety and health of people IRL that rely on your judgement,now, let alone back then when we knew little, is way beyond my comfort zone or capabilities. easy to speculate here in anonymous forums.
            on moral issues, are you denying people a potentially natural defense?
            we will see how Israel’s ‘controlled avalanche’ strategy works out.
            if it goes horribly wrong, nobody wants that, I will completely abandon any credence to ‘herd’ tactics for this virus.

            One more question. With this complex matrix of potential blood types and antigens combinations, is it possible that some of those do not express existence of antibodies in serum test? even if they are/should be there.

            lesson is: keep attitude positive, and viral tests negative


          2. William Jones
            13th May 2020, 1:20

            Thanks mirko, to answer your question, sorry to say, it depends! There are many ways of testing for antibodys in the blood, and some of these tests are more reliable than others. Every test exists for a reason, some just tell you how much protein is in the blood, but nothing about which proteins. Some can give you a detailed analysis of every molecule in the blood. And sadly, some are made to be as cheap as possible, and do so by taking shortcuts which make the tests so unreliable that the margin of error is unacceptable.

            In the blood service, we used a machine made by Olympus called the PF7100, and blood immunology geeks will now know exactly which lab I worked in. Southampton General Hospital, for the non blood geeks out there ;) The machine gave an analysis of about 10 of the most common antibodies that can cause an immune response. Primary among these is ABO and Rhesus type. However, every blood donation is tested for compatibility with the blood of the patient via a process called cross matching. Should a donation fail the crossmatch test, meaning an immune response was noted in the test, then the blood was returned to the hospitals blood store (not the large blood bank, hospitals keep a small number of commonly used donations on site) and new blood drawn. If lots of blood fails, then it’s referred to Red Cell Immunohaemotology – my lab, where the job was primarily to find samples that the donor could have without a reaction. Because of the nature of blood donations, the body tend to make a lot of new antibodies in response to every unit given, so for some patients who needed regular donations, they could get really complex really quickly! That’s why I always advise people to refuse a transfusion if they have a choice, it means if you fall off your bike, or whatever later in life, you might not be able to safely have a transfusion if you’ve got the wrong combination of antibodies and the wrong donors turned up in the last month! We would do this by testing likely samples in detail, testing the patients blood to discover their antibodies, and testing the donors for compatibility. Because donors are often regulars, and because we keep their antibody profile on record, this isn’t a random shot in the dark, and I personally cannot remember a failure to find a donation. But the point is, I have run a lot of antibody tests in my life, at a level where it’s critical to get right, often under a time pressure. It’s a manual test, no fancy Olympus to run the thing through, it’s pippettes and chemicals and reference books! You could be faced with any number of wacky antibodies, never seen since their discoverer first named them.

            However, it took 4-5 of us in the lab to cover the the South Coast, from roughly around Brighton to the border of the south west area. That’s 4-5 people to cover the, maybe 20 cases we were referred in a week. We worked at the pace and the accuracy required, and scaling this up to adequately meet the UK’s government promise of 20,000 tests a day would require 35,000 MLSO’s (Medical Lab Scientific Officers) – not going to happen. So a cost effective kit needs to be created to meet our testing requirements, and … well, pharmaceutical companies are required to test their products for such a long time for a very good reason, and relaxing the requirements to rush through a kit is a bit of pot luck. We’ve already had one failure, but we’ll keep trying, and the pharmaceutical companies will keep rushing tests until we get one that works. Until then, we have to accept that they small number of manual tests being done are of gold standard, as accurate as can be. My guess would be, world wide, 200-400 tests being done a day. Every test done by kit cannot be considered of adequate quality, until someone invents a kit that works to something approximating the manual tests. It will happen, we already have a number of solutions of varying price, expertise needed to run and accuracy. I believe there is a test that is good enough, but it’s so expensive and slow to manufacture that it’s being made at top speed, but cannot hope to fulfil demand. I also know there is a test that’s so simple, you can send it through the post with instructions on how to collect a sample, and have it sent back, and it’s robust enough to survive that process. I also know it’s so garbage in it’s reliability that the labs didn’t even bother testing them, as their time was needed on work that was more worthwhile!

            Condensing all of that information, to how it refers to your question, it is absolutely possible for an antibody to be virtually undetectable, in kit tests, but a lab will be able to detect it.

            And I’m still not saying Israel is wrong, it might prove to be the best course of action. Or it might prove to be a costly mistake, so please don’t drop your belief in it due to me, but do understand that it is a gamble where the odds are unknown. It’s a roll on a roulette wheel where you’ve put your money on red, but you haven’t seen the wheel. We’re working hard on inventing a periscope to be able to see it, but until we can we don’t know if there are any red spaces on it or if it’s mostly red. You might be right, you might be wrong.

          3. William Jones
            13th May 2020, 1:24

            *here the job was primarily to find _donations_ that the _patient_ could have without a reaction

            *MLSO’s = MLSOs
            dear oh dear, my apostrophies!

          4. Thank you William. That was very informative. Now I have much more awareness and appreciation for the complexity of what goes behind the doors after I faint, giving blood sample.

            I hope R&D on getting reliable, cost effective tests will be swift.


          5. William Jones
            14th May 2020, 9:38

            Check the news this morning, very good news indeed! A reliable antibody test kit that hits most of the necessary points, the only detractor being that it must be done with a blood draw, so you have to go to a clinic or surgery or hospital to have it done. But apart from that it’s looking accurate, reliable, able to be manufactured to the needs of the world and cheap enough to produce.

          6. Good news :)

            Thanks for the update William


            Here is some interesting information on the subject matter.
            Sorry for reviving this.

  9. The purpose of a knee jerk is to restore balance after a serious challenge (real or perceived) to it. In other words, to prevent it falling over. I had hoped, after Helmut Marko got laughed at for his “corona camp” idea, that he was the only one not getting the significance of COVID-19. Also, I had hoped that Red Bull’s stance in the vote was because it had been tricked by the powers-that-be into thinking continuing was an option. I am very disappointed that Christian has also underestimated it even in the face of how many problems were caused – and how much effect stopping things quickly has on restricting the harm COVID-19 does.

    The challenge posed to F1’s balance was real, and McLaren’s knee jerk was proportional to it.

  10. Wow no wonder Red bull internally politics is so bsd because Horner is in charged

    1. Internal*

      Dam autocorrect

  11. Paolo (@paulsteward40)
    13th May 2020, 11:01

    Mmmm…perhaps if he or any of his family had contracted the virus (god forbid!) he might have a significantly different view. Does he not appreciate the significance of the pandemic?

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