Australian Grand Prix could have gone ahead safely, says Formula One team boss


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Drivers, teams and fans had already arrived at the Melbourne track for preparations when the race, which was scheduled as the season opener of the 2020 F1 calendar, was canceled because of the pandemic.

Speaking to CNN Sport’s Amanda Davies, Szafnauer said: “It was difficult to predict the future, but looking back, had we raced … I think we would have raced safely.

“The risk was very, very low. We could have put the race on. The Australian government gave us the go-ahead to do so. However, there was a big unknown at the time and because of the unknown I think we made cautious decisions not to race.”

The decision to cancel the event came on the eve of race weekend following McLaren’s withdrawal after a team member tested positive for the virus.

Szafnauer, revealing the majority of teams initially voted to race, added: “The thing you have to remember is there are 10 independent teams, the FIA (motorsport’s governing body), there’s F1, and then there’s the Australian government so there’s 13 or so independent decision makers that unless you’re all together you really don’t know what the other is doing.”

In Europe, questions have been raised about the staging of Champions League matches in March between Atalanta and Valencia in Italy and between Liverpool and Atletico Madrid in the UK as well as the staging of the Cheltenham festival.

According to latest figures from the John Hopkins University of Medicine, Australia has been hit by 6457 Covid-19 cases and 67 deaths.
Szafnauer also said the Red Bull Ring, Austria’s Formula One circuit, could host the first race of the season as Austria is one of the many European countries which has begun easing restrictions on daily life.
Racing Point F1 CEO and team principal Otmar Szafnauer says he believes Formula One can fit in "12-15" races this season.

The pandemic has caused the start of the season — initially set to begin in March — to be delayed, with the Canadian Grand Prix recently becoming the ninth race to be either postponed or canceled.

The Austrian Grand Prix is set to take place on July 5. F1 rules stipulate that a minimum of eight races must be held for a season to be classified as a world championship.

Szafnauer said: “Austria as a country is starting to come out of their lockdowns slowly but surely, and that’s in April.

Coronavirus pandemic is 'final wake-up call' for Formula One, says McLaren boss

“So, if you can look forward and say that’s happening in April, the barber shops and the beauty salons and the libraries are opening now and perhaps children go back to school in May, I can see a race without fans happening in July.

“And if that happens … we can get 12-15 races in.”

The Racing Point CEO said that if that many races can take place this season, the impact of the pandemic on the sport should not be as dramatic as some, like McLaren team principal Andreas Seidl, have predicted. Last week Seidl said the pandemic was a “final wake-up call” for the sport, warning that teams could fold if changes were not made.

“I think our financial impact won’t be that bad this year,” Szafnauer added. “It will still be significant, so we still have to save some cost; then, if we can have a full season next year, before we know it — although this has taken a hit on us — we’ll be in better shape.”

Racing Point team principal Szafnauer says the Austrian Grand Prix in July could be the first race of the 2020 season.
Szafnauer said the pandemic and its impact on F1 highlighted “the fine margins that we’re working to financially” and compared what the sport is going through now to what happened after the 2008 global financial crisis.

The cancellations and postponements have already hit teams hard, with most of their revenues coming from broadcasting deals, race hosting fees and sponsorship, according to a recent Reuters report.

“We saw people leave the sport,” said Szafnauer of the impact of the 2008 crisis.

“We saw new teams coming in that didn’t last very long, so we’ve got to make sure that if something like this happens every 10 years, the next one we’re in better shape.”

Teams have already agreed to a $150 million budget cap for the 2021 season in an attempt to level the playing field, and last week discussed a possible further reduction without coming to an agreement.

Szafnauer cautioned that while these financial precautions were positive they should not impact the intrinsic nature of F1.

“We’re definitely [in better shape] through cost caps and maybe capping some of the expenditures, also maybe capping some of the development we do, especially the expensive development.” he said.

“But not at the cost of the DNA of Formula One.”

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