Sport Motorsport Australian Grand Prix in race against time to avoid postponement

Australian Grand Prix in race against time to avoid postponement

australian grand prix cancelled
Esteban Ocon of Renault during the aborted weekend at Albert Park in Melbourne last year. Photo: AAP
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Victorian government officials are insisting a decision is yet to be made on Formula One’s season-opening Australian Grand Prix, as the event faces postponement due to COVID-19 concerns.

The March 21 event at Melbourne’s Albert Park is in severe doubt due to strict travel restrictions facing travellers from overseas.

Those rules mean members of F1’s travelling circus including drivers, team officials and support staff would all face a fortnight of hotel quarantine upon arrival.

It’s a similar scenario to that being faced by the world’s top tennis professionals ahead of the Australian Open next month.

Organisers of that event have told players they must arrive in Australia by the middle of January to serve 14 days of self-isolation.

It’s understood a postponement announcement for the Grand Prix is likely to be made later in January with organisers trying to find a date later in the season for the event.

“As far as I know, there has been no decision made to cancel, move or otherwise with the Australian Grand Prix,” Victoria’s Emergency Services Minister Lisa Neville told reporters on Tuesday.

Those conversations are live and active, absolutely.”

If the event is postponed it would mean the 2021 F1 season would begin in Bahrain on March 28.

F1 bosses remain hopeful of completing a record-breaking 23-race schedule although finding a suitable window to hold the Australian event later in the year poses a significant challenge.

Free dates for the F1 season are in September, October or November.

A postponement would also be the second year the Melbourne event has been affected by the COVID pandemic with last year’s race cancelled just hours before the opening practice session when a mechanic from McLaren tested positive for coronavirus.

Supercars will also have to rejig their calendar if the Grand Prix is postponed with the second round of the championship scheduled for Albert Park as a support category to the F1.

Melbourne track Sandown looms as the likely replacement venue for that event after it was listed as a “flex option” on the 2021 season calendar.

Ticket sales for this year’s Australian Grand Prix are yet to begin due to the uncertainty.

Tennis also facing COVID issues

On Tuesday, a replacement hotel was found to quarantine international tennis players ahead of next month’s Australian Open after the contract with The Westin in Melbourne was cancelled.

Australian Open organisers and government officials were left scrambling after several penthouse owners at the Westin raised concerns about the quarantine plans and threatened legal action.

They claimed they hadn’t provided consent and felt the proposal was unworkable, putting them at increased risk of contracting COVID-19.

Victorian Police Minister Lisa Neville said on Tuesday morning an alternative hotel had been secured, which will be “stood up today or tomorrow”.

She said the new site would be announced next week.

“We have secured a different hotel for the Australian Open,” Neville said.

“We became aware on Sunday that there were some concerns that had been expressed by the residents in the apartments.

“This is about having goodwill with our hotel partners … so we’ve gone through a process of securing a new site.

“All those sites, we’ll announce formally next week.”

Neville said they stood by the infection prevention plans for the Westin but didn’t want “a fight” so mutually agreed to look elsewhere.

“In this case, we were absolutely confident in the design of the buildings – the residents are completely separate,” Neville said.

“But we didn’t want to end up in a fight with one of our key partners that we’ve used in the past.

“We’ve ended up in a good situation and in fact where we have secured (accommodation), it will become part of the ongoing program.”

Players are due to arrive on January 15 and serve a 14-day quarantine period with the major to get underway on February 8.

-with Melissa Woods AAP