MELBOURNE • Formula One said yesterday it hoped to start its 2020 season in Europe at the end of May after cancelling this weekend's Australian Grand Prix and postponing the next three races in Bahrain, Vietnam and China due to the coronavirus pandemic.
That would also appear to rule out the Dutch and Spanish races currently scheduled for May 3 and 10 in Zandvoort and Barcelona. Monaco, a highlight of the year, is round seven on May 24.
In a statement on its website, F1 said: "Formula 1 and the FIA ( International Automobile Federation) continue to work closely with the race promoters in Bahrain and Vietnam and the local health authorities to monitor the situation and... study the viability of potential alternative dates for each Grand Prix later in the year should the situation improve.
"As a result, Formula 1 and the FIA expect to begin the Championship in Europe at the end of May but given the sharp increase in Covid-19 cases in Europe in recent days, this will be regularly reviewed."
The F1 campaign was first thrown into doubt yesterday morning with the cancellation of the season opener in Melbourne.
This came only hours before the first practice session was due to get under way, and after a McLaren team member tested positive for the virus on Thursday.
The decisions on Bahrain and Vietnam came later yesterday.
F1 chief Chase Carey said that it was "challenging" to predict when the next race might take place.
"It is a pretty difficult situation to predict. Everybody uses the word 'fluid' and it is a fluid situation," he told a media conference at Melbourne's Albert Park circuit.
"The situation today is different than it was two days ago and it was different than four days ago. Trying to look out and make those sorts of predictions, when it is changing this quick, it is challenging."
The fourth round of the championship in Shanghai next month had already been postponed last month and organisers in Bahrain had planned to stage the race without spectators on March 22. Vietnam was supposed to host its inaugural Grand Prix on April 5.
Holding the Dutch Grand Prix could also prove problematic after the authorities cancelled sports events on Thursday and banned gatherings of more than 100 people. Spain, the next stop, is another country hit hard by the pandemic.
Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes - one of seven teams that requested the cancellation of the Australian race - welcomed the decision.
He said: "The reality is, this is really serious with people dying every day, lots of people ill and even if they are not ill, many people being affected financially and emotionally."
Mercedes, meanwhile, said that they do not feel it would be right to race when McLaren - who also have 14 other staff in quarantine - are unable to do so through "circumstances beyond their control".
As the race was confirmed to be cancelled, some fans fumed at the way they were treated. Many had flocked to the circuit amid reports the race was set to go ahead, only to encounter closed gates.
"We had to find out from Twitter, not from the organisers and have been waiting here for hours in the line," one told the Herald Sun.
"A lot of people are saying we have been robbed," said another.
Australian Grand Prix Corporation chief executive Andrew Westacott said that local organisers would discuss the viability of holding the race later.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN