The complications, of course, are to do with money. Around half the sport’s income is derived from the massive race fees paid by the promoters of each race. If the promoter does the responsible thing and cancels, it cannot make an insurance claim on the lost revenue. If F1 itself cancels, it’s in the same predicament. But if the relevant government forbids the event, it’s much easier for everyone.
Meantime Vietnam – a privately-funded new event in Hanoi in which multiple millions have been invested – is at the time of writing still set to be the third race of the season. Vietnam, which shares a border with China, the home of the virus, has been particularly zealous in its precautions: widespread school closures, putting 10,000 people in isolation, regular emergency drills. But now 13 people who’d been on board a Vietnam Airlines London-Hanoi flight on March 2 are reported to have the virus. This has triggered a lock down in a neighbourhood adjacent to Hanoi. Still, F1 and the promoters insist, the race will happen.
No matter how many ‘we are closely monitoring the situation’ and ‘the safety of the people is paramount’ statements F1 makes, it’s not the body which can objectively make the calls. It’s financially locked into pressing on and needs to be released from that burden. Longer term, F1 cannot risk being seen as the entity which irresponsibly turned the epidemic into a pandemic, potentially killing millions. Until this virus is under control, we may all have to accept that grands prix are a luxury we have to postpone.