The Victorian government would have to dramatically relax quarantine restrictions for Formula One teams, and almost certainly rely on the Brazilian Grand Prix being cancelled, for the Australian Grand Prix to go ahead in November, epidemiologists say.
Both the government and the Australian Grand Prix Corporation have dismissed the prospect of Victoria staging back-to-back races if the preceding event in Brazil, where there is a seven-day average of more than 60,000 new COVID cases per day, is cancelled.
The grand prix was called off in Melbourne last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.Credit:Justin McManus
The AGPC said in a statement; “Formula One is responsible for scheduling – we have received no new information from them on that front.”
A government source said the two-race idea had been canvassed briefly but was not likely to happen.
“When people sat down to look at the situation every possibility was discussed. This is one thing that was raised but seen as highly improbable. There is no work going on to progress it, no negotiations, no lobbying going on or negotiating along those lines,” the source said.
The desperate COVID-19 situation in Brazil, where the race is set down for November 7, has heightened concerns about the feasibility of Albert Park hosting the F1 drivers and their entourages a fortnight later.
Even if the Brazilian race is cancelled, as many in the sport believe it will be, epidemiologist Professor Catherine Bennett from Deakin University said it would take a compromise between Victorian health authorities and Formula One.
She suggested a custom-made “boutique” quarantine system for the teams, which would allow them to serve part of their quarantine period in the UK.
This would fall well short of the strict quarantine imposed on tennis players who travelled to Melbourne for the Australian Open in February.
“If the UK has progressed a long way and they have been there for the previous two weeks there might be the opportunity for a travel bubble, which could relieve things,” Bennett said.
“They have talked about having shorter quarantines for people who are vaccinated. If they are not mixing much outside the team, or if the actual case rate in the UK is low … they are less likely to be infected.
“It all depends on whether they can negotiate something that satisfies the government’s risk appetite, and is acceptable to the teams. That’s where they would have to find compromise. Victoria is not likely to shorten it, but it could set up a custom-designed, boutique quarantine that could meet in some ways some of the things that they need to be doing.”
The Canadian Grand Prix was cancelled last month when Formula One teams were unwilling to agree to the quarantine restrictions imposed by the Canadian government.
F1 chiefs hastily arranged for another European event to be run in its place in Turkey. The teams have operated in bubbles instead of quarantine because of the tight turnaround between races.
The Australian Grand Prix was due to be staged in March, but the calendar was revamped to stage it on the weekend of November 21, the hope being that the pandemic would be under control and the world returning to something approaching normality by then.
Work to build the temporary grandstands and corporate areas at Albert Park would need to begin in early September.
Professor Mike Toole of the Burnet Institute agreed it would be easier to host the Australian event if the Brazilian race was cancelled, leaving a three-week gap between the Mexican Grand Prix on October 31 and the Melbourne race.
“I think it could only happen if everyone is vaccinated and if they all have negative tests before they get on a charter flight after the Brazilian GP, come directly to Melbourne and get tested when they arrive,” Toole said.
“They would need to be tested before qualifying, they would need to secure transport to Albert Park so they would not mingle with anyone. They would have drivers, mechanics and everyone in the same situation and not interacting with anyone else except maybe doctors and nurses.
“It could be done, but it is difficult, and the GP has to pay for it all.
“If you went straight from Mexico to Melbourne there would be an extra week’s wriggle room and you could share the quarantine around a number of cities. That would make it more workable.”
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