F1 vs. Corona-virus: Would Ecclestone Have Handled The Mess Better?

F1's former Ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone walking around the paddock at a Grand Prix. He would've reacted differently to the corona-virus scare.
Thanks to the corona-virus outbreak and some poor decision-making, the start to F1’s 70th season was embarrassing & disappointing. There was no race, just a whole lot of unwanted drama & lack of sensibility to help capitalism win over humanity.

However, could Bernie Ecclestone, the former Ringmaster of Formula 1, have handled the messy situation at the 2020 Australian Grand Prix better? In this week’s episode of the Inside Line F1 Podcast, we answer this question by breaking down Liberty Media’s decision-making into three parts.

First, the decision to travel to Australia. We were split in our verdict when the decision was taken to travel to Australia with the entire troupe of the paddock. After all, the outbreak was only intensifying in Italy while showing up on the map elsewhere, too. However, the data wasn’t as conclusive to make a ‘yes or no’ decision, at that time. Of course, Formula 1 is in the business of hosting races and it only makes sense that they decided to give it a shot – riding on a lot of hope! In this stage, Liberty Media’s decision was Bernie-like. It was approaching the situation with a ‘money can solve’ approach.

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Second, the 12 hours between Mclaren’s pulling out and Formula 1 finally announcing a cancellation of the 2020 Australian Grand Prix. These were the darkest 12 hours since Liberty Media’s ownership of the sport. The lack of decision-making was appalling. It was apparent that a ‘who blinks first’ approach was being used given the structuring of race hosting contracts, insurances, cancellation and force majeure clauses, etc. Basis FIA’s rule book, they couldn’t cancel the event unless less than 12 cars showed up on the grid. Strange that the governing body’s rule book has provisions for health-safety on-track and in-pit lane but not in the event of a serious virus outbreak. Well, if such provisions exist then it’s a bit of a shame that they didn’t evoke them in Australia. Understandably, they waited for Liberty Media (or FOM) to decide on the cancellation. After all, they’ve signed off Formula 1’s commercial rights for a reason.

However, Liberty Media waited on the Australian Grand Prix Corporation (AGPC) who further waited on the government to make the cancellation decision. While the chain of command was dictated by possible structures in the insurance contract, it was the fans who paid a heavy price for the delay in decision-making. Apart from long wait hours at the gate, it was the unnecessary travel using public transport on Friday morning during the corona-virus outbreak that was probably the worst downside of the delay. Additionally, there were millions waiting online and in anticipation to hear the fate of the opening round of the season. This is where we believe that the brand and goodwill of Formula 1 was misused by the local promoters. Also, this is probably where Ecclestone would’ve acted otherwise and in a timely fashion to protect Formula 1.

Finally, it was the stand-up media session that Liberty Media co-hosted along with the FIA and AGPC. Trust Ecclestone to have not bothered about the media as much!

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Either way, there’s more to follow on Liberty Media’s flawed strategy around the 2020 Australian Grand Prix. In this episode of the Inside Line F1 Podcast, we ask if the delayed timing of the cancellation was influenced by insurance clauses. We discuss why no other team joined Mclaren in their decision to not compete and how Formula 1 management’s ‘who blinks first’ approach was appalling. Tune in!

Here’s sending our best wishes to the infected Mclaren team member & others who might realise days or weeks later that they were infected by the corona-virus due to the shenanigans around the 2020 Australian Grand Prix!

(Season 2020, Episode 09)

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Here’s what’s in store for you in this episode:

0:00-3:00 – Formula 1’s microphone act gone all wrong at final media session of the 2020 Australian Grand Prix where the cancellation was announced

3:00-6:00 –  Liberty Media’s strategy decisions around Australia were worse than Ferrari’s race strategy decisions – the corona-virus undercut Formula 1!

6:00-9:00 – 3 stages of Liberty Media’s attitude towards the virus outbreak – first, very Bernie Ecclestone-like. The second, not so Ecclestone-like. Third, complete naivety!

9:00-12:00 – Formula 1’s indecisiveness around the 2020 Australian Grand Prix wasn’t worthy of a series that’s labelled as the pinnacle of Motorsport. Did the responsibility of cancelling the race fall between three stools – one each for Formula 1, FIA and the local promoters?

12:00-15:00 – Was insurance one of the reasons why the race wasn’t cancelled earlier? Why did no other team join Mclaren in pulling out of the race?

15:00-18:00 –  Was having an infected team member a prerequisite for a team to pull out from racing in Australia without invoking financial penalties?

18:00-21:00 –  Helmut Marko was testing Lando Norris’ presence of mind? The only driver to be impacted by the lift in helmet design ban will be Daniil Kvyat

22:00-end – Kimi Raikkonen is the coolest driver in Formula 1, but not the friendliest?

Kunal Shah is an FIA-accredited Formula 1 journalist who has been reporting on Formula 1 for nearly two decades. He worked with the Force India Formula 1 Team for 6 seasons in Marketing, Sponsorship and Commercial roles. As a former single-seater racer, he was responsible for Force India's grassroots talent program, One from a Billion Hunt. Presently, he co-writes a regular Formula 1 column for Firstpost, speaks on Inside Line F1 Podcast & Pits to Podium and produces broadcast/OTT content for NENT Group (Viasport & Viaplay).

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