By Abhishek Takle
BAKU (Reuters) – Formula One’s Chinese Grand Prix in April has been postponed due to the recent outbreak of coronavirus in the country, organisers said on Wednesday.
The race, in an important market for Formula One, was originally set to be held in Shanghai on the 19th but the governing FIA and Formula One said they had jointly agreed to postpone it.
“As a result of continued health concerns and with the World Health Organisation declaring the coronavirus as a global health emergency, the FIA and Formula One have taken these measures,” the two bodies said in a statement.
“All parties will take the appropriate amount of time to study the viability of potential alternative dates for the Grand Prix later in the year should the situation improve.”
The flu-like virus has killed more than 1,100 people and infected more than 44,000 in China after it first emerged in the central city of Wuhan late last year.
A host of international sporting events have been cancelled due to coronavirus, including the all-electric Formula E motor racing series that abandoned plans for a race in the Chinese city of Sanya next month.
Formula One chairman and chief executive Chase Carey said fitting the race back into an already packed calendar with few spare weekends would pose a challenge, however.
“At this point it’s tough to make too many specific plans when there are so many unknowns around it,” he told Reuters at a conference in the Azeri capital and Formula One host Baku.
Renault F1 boss Cyril Abiteboul, speaking at a team launch event in Paris, welcomed the fact a decision had come before sea freight was sent next week.
“The fact we know this week will avoid unnecessary aggravation from a cost perspective,” he told Reuters.
“The Chinese race is an important race on the calendar and China and the U.S. are the two strategic priorities for (Formula One’s commercial rights holder) Liberty Media and we support that,” he added.
“We hope that there will be another slot even though I know it will be challenging to find one this season.”
Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo said he had mixed feelings.
“Personally I really enjoy the circuit, had success there, I had a win (with Red Bull) in 2018 and got my first points with Renault there last year,” he told reporters.
“I feel for the fans and everyone that’s going to miss out but more importantly I feel for China and what they are going through at the moment. On the flipside, I’m glad some initiative has been taken and we’re not putting anyone else at risk.”
Carey said the sport was also keeping an eye on the spread of the virus outside China, with Vietnam set to host its first race on April 5.
“The reality of today, in most other countries, the number of people affected is a handful,” he said. “But we don’t know what it will be in a week or two.”
The last race to be cancelled was the 2011 Bahrain Grand Prix, due to social unrest in the island Kingdom.
In that case, the country still paid the hosting fee, reportedly $40 million.
If China cannot be rescheduled, the calendar will be pared back to 21 races from a record 22 with a four-week gap between new addition Vietnam and the returning Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort on May 3.
Asked about the possibility of a one-off race elsewhere in place of China, Carey said Formula One was evaluating all contingencies.
The time available is short, however, and organisers would also likely expect their hosting costs to be underwritten.
“We’re not going to do something that isn’t good for us or the teams,” said Carey. “We like the 22-race calendar (but) we’re fine with a 21-race calendar.”
(Additional reporting by Hardik Vyas and Rohith Nair in Bengaluru, Alan Baldwin in Paris; Editing by Peter Rutherford, Alex Richardson, Pritha Sarkar and Toby Davis)