Baku F1 chief admits fear of Australia 'precedent' led to race postponement

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Azerbaijan Grand Prix chief Arif Rahimov admits fear of following the "precedent" seen in Australia led to the early call to postpone this year's race.

As the ongoing coronavirus pandemic worsened, Formula 1 tried to push ahead with the season opener earlier this month only to have to cancel the race on the Friday morning after a McLaren employee tested positive for the illness.

Since then, the next seven races have also either been postponed or cancelled, including the event on the streets of Baku initially set for June 7.

And explaining that decision he pointed to the similarities between the two races, namely the larger impact on the city because of the time needed to build the circuit.

“When you have a precedent it’s easier to work with everyone because everyone understands the pain that you’re going through,” Rahimov told RACER.

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“I really want to say that I think no promoter should be in a situation that the Australian promoters have been in and I really feel sorry for Andy Westacott (Australian Grand Prix Corporation CEO) and his team.

“I think it’s absolutely terrible what he had to go through and cancelling the event last-minute is a disaster for the promoter.

“There’s so much effort being put into a race like this. Australia is also a temporary circuit, so I believe they spend a lot of time, money and energy building up the circuit and then making the decision last-minute that you have to cancel the race is an absolute disaster.

“This is really something that I think every promoter wants to avoid right now.

“Obviously having all these races postponed, having this terrible precedent in Australia, it doesn’t make things easier, but it makes it more logical when you’re trying to explain your position to your counterparty.”

The Baku F1 chief also revealed he waited until the very last day before work on the circuit would have had to start before making the final decision to postpone.

In Melbourne though, they weren't so lucky as the grandstands and circuit furniture all had to be taken down around Albert Park after not being used.

“If you look at the landscape five days earlier, there were 86,000 people going to a cricket game at the MCG,” Westacott said in a ‘Below the Bonnet’ podcast, reflecting back on those crazy few days.

“We were right on the cusp with Grand Prix and then a week later people have got the ability to cancel events into the future.

“The timing was probably the perfect storm, but it was anything but perfect for all of the teams, whether it’s Supercars or TCR or the staff at the Australian Grand Prix Corporation, our sponsors and the fans that were outside the gate when lots of decisions were being made.

“We had to take input from the chief health officer, who is part of the Victorian government under the Department of Health and Human Services. That particular individual feeds up into a cohort of chief health officers around the country.

“The FIA is involved, the teams are involved, Formula 1 is involved, the Victorian government is involved and then there’s the timezones that aren’t necessarily conducive to making decisions when we had the event going on the Thursday, but things changed overnight.

“That’s why there was, sadly, some frustration from the fans at the gate."

Indeed, during the morning hours on that Friday, it was initially advised by the local authorities to go ahead without fans but that was before F1 ultimately made its final decision to cancel their event.

“There were a number of different scenarios. There are considerations of whether you go ahead without Formula 1, or whether you ultimately take all the inputs and we, at the end of the day, took all the inputs," Westacott continued.

“But all of these things had been compressed within an hour or three and unfortunately you’ve got to decide a complete outcome before telling people.

“We had to advise the right things to people at the right time. That’s the way it panned out.”