The Australian Grand Prix is set to be cancelled for a second straight year after negotiations over a quarantine hub for drivers reportedly broke down.
The lucrative race in Melbourne, one of the highlights of the Australian sporting calendar, was called off at the last minute in March 2020, just as the Covid-19 pandemic was taking hold.
This year’s race had already been pushed back from its usual early season slot to November, when it was hoped restrictions would have eased.
Victoria is almost free of locally transmitted coronavirus cases, but strict quarantine arrangements for overseas travellers remain in place.
Race organisers had reportedly asked the Victorian government for a fly-in, fly-out arrangement with a biosecure hub set up for drivers, team officials and staff, to avoid the mandatory 14-day quarantine period.
Given the quick turnaround between races on the F1 calendar, any quarantine period in Melbourne would force drivers to miss other races. The preceding Brazilian Grand Prix takes place on 7 November, with the race weekend at Albert Park to start on 19 November.
The Australian Grand Prix Corporation’s Covid-safe plan came under scrutiny last week when the federal government announced a 50% reduction in the cap for returning overseas travellers, even though the sizeable grand prix cohort would likely fall outside that cap.
It comes as Victoria recorded a sixth straight day of zero locally transmitted cases, while NSW reported 18 and Queensland one on Tuesday.
Dan Andrews, the premier of Victoria, said holding major sporting events like the Grand Prix was “very challenging” given Australia’s slow vaccine roll out.
“When you’ve halved the number of people coming into the country, when you’ve got 10% of people vaccinated when you want and need 70 or 80% to have had the jab, we’re not at that point,” Andrews said on Tuesday. “The timing doesn’t quite line up, and that makes it very, very challenging.”
Another of Melbourne’s major international sporting events, the Australian Open tennis tournament, is due to the be held in January next year, when Andrews believes a more vaccinated population will allow it go ahead.
“The reason I am confident of that is that that’s exactly after the period I’ve just been talking about, where we hopefully hit that magic number,” Andrews said. “Everyone who wants to be vaccinated, everybody who can be convinced to be vaccinated has been. At that point, that critical mass, then we’re not locking down anymore.”
Minister for sport Martin Pakula and Andrew Westacott, the CEO of the Australian Grand Prix Corporation, will give a media conference at 3pm on Tuesday.