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Melbourne targeting original March date in 2021

NEWS STORY
05/10/2020

It was in Melbourne that the sport's worst fears were realised. As the pandemic tightened its global grip, it was only when a number of team personnel at McLaren tested positive for the virus - just hours before the opening practice session - that things rapidly began to fall apart, organisers eventually having to cancel the event.

With no end to the virus in realistic sight, F1 bosses have yet to give any insight into the 2021 calendar, and though the sport is hoping to head back to those countries dropped from the heavily revised 2020 schedule, there is the strong possibility that next year could witness the same sort of Europe-centric, slimmed-down schedule seen this year.

Obviously, with no scheduled date for the 2021 event, fans hoping to attend the Melbourne race can only register their interest in tickets, nonetheless, Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Grand Prix Corporation, Andrew Westacott remains confident.

"Our discussions with Formula 1, and also with Dorna - who run MotoGP - are regular and very, very positive in all regards," he told Speedcafe.com.

"What I know for both, I'll call them world tours, but with both motorsport calendars, that both intend to issue their provisional calendars for the 2021 season in mid to late October," he continued.

"What that means for Formula 1 is Melbourne will be in its traditional March season opening slot on the provisional calendar. What it means for MotoGP is that Phillip Island will be in its traditional slot in late October on the MotoGP calendar, when they're both released in mid to late October."

Both events however, would need to be signed off by the government which would be certain to impose various protocols, though as yet it is not clear what these would be.

"We're adopting an approach, which if you wanted to use the words, is modular, expandable, adaptable, flexible, and it's got to be sensible and very, very safe," said Westacott. "When it comes to the development of that calendar and, therefore, the locking in of the race, we have to be flexible, and we have to be sensible and safe.

"Everything is ultimately health driven," he admitted, "but Victoria is doing a great job of driving back down the numbers. My optimistic approach is that we'll be ready to have spectators at Albert Park in late March.

"I look at what Formula 1 and MotoGP are doing," he said of the way both series have adapted to the crisis this year. "Technically there's 31 races across 14 different countries, and Formula 1 and MotoGP are leading the way in an international motorsport environment.

"In Australia, Supercars is operating very effectively, so we believe that we can operate and deliver a great event in March."

Though he is hoping that both events retain their traditional slots on their rerspective calendars, he concedes that there is potential for change. However, were that to be the case any changes would need to be signed-off by the Victoria State Government.

"The Grand Prix Corporation, the government, and Formula 1 will all have to realise that decisions have to be made this side of Christmas," explained Westacott. "Once the provisional calendar is put out there in October, as the first race, it won't be more than a month's time before that's finalised, and locked away.

"That will be, obviously, a collective decision, but once it's locked away, we need to commit to that, because it's not in anyone's interest to have a cancellation of the nature of March this year.

"It's a hypothetical at the moment, and at this stage, the first part of the appetite is to do it in March as the season opener," he replied when asked if the F1 race couldn't go ahead in March.

"I mean, Melbourne's experience economy, and it's visitor economy, needs to be kick-started and reignited. "We have to place trust in tourism operators and event promoters, and we have to restart an industry that contributes heaps to the state's economy. That's much better done in March.

"If circumstances change, then we need to be flexible and change with those circumstances, but for the time being we're well and truly going to be on that provisional calendar for March.

"Some four weeks after that, we'd be locking it away, and if we're on the provisional calendar for March we'd be intending to confirm the March date as well, some four to five weeks later."

Amidst talk the MotoGP event could be moved to March he said: "Any change on a MotoGP date, now's not the time to be doing that or entertaining it. The discussions with Dorna were very, very simple about keeping the Phillip Island round of the MotoGP calendar in its normal traditional slot, which is very, very good for everyone.

"The first challenge of MotoGP and Formula 1 is to build up and make sure that the normality of their calendars is returned in 2021. We're very, very open-minded and we flex and move with the desires and the needs of calendars," he added.

"We'll cross that bridge further down the track, but we're open-minded to considerations of change or adjustment, whether it's a minor adjustment or more larger adjustment.

"But I don't think also, those challenges of having two events around similar time are so insurmountable that it could never occur if it was deemed appropriate."

The AGPC has contracts with F1 and Dorna until 2025 and 2026 respectively.

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1. Posted by Bill Hopgood, 05/10/2020 18:24

"Melbourne may well be targeting their original date however that particular city has the dubious distinction of having what has turned out to be (excuse this please Ed) a cock up of a COVID 19 situation.
One good thing that has happened is that there has been an enquiry into said issues and it has shown two things:
1. There was a cock up with the incoming traveller isolation implementation (security guards getting, er, way too close to travellers and not taking their job seriously, not being trained either).
2. No one in government seems taken responsibility or knows how the outbreak happened yet the state minister of health has resigned.

A reader from Victoria will have more information and first hand experience to relate than I can do here.

Without ownership of the issue there isn't much of a chance of a solution. The issue doesn't get resolved.
I'm not suggesting that Melbourne won't get sorted, the citizens will see to that, but it just shows that the attitude is not right at the top.
I guess it is a matter of trust that the situation will not reoccur.

With that in mind, it could be that the F1 bosses may be able to tap the shoulder of another circuit at a different time of the year, later in the year.

Maybe Bathurst could be an option?

It would be awesome to see these F1 cars belting around that great track.

Or perhaps Melbourne later in the year, after or before Bathurst particularly if the race in Suzuka is out?"

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