Formula 1 has got itself into an almighty mess.
McLaren today pulled out of the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, just hours before the cars were set to hit the track in Melbourne for Practice 1.
It puts the sport in a horrendous situation that could – and should – have been avoided.
One member of the British team has tested positive for the coronavirus.
In a statement McLaren said: “The decision has been taken based on a duty of care not only to McLaren F1 employees and partners, but also to the team’s competitors, Formula 1 fans and wider F1 stakeholders.”
Another two people in the Haas team have also had the same result.
During his pre-race media conference, Lewis Hamilton fizzed: “I am very, very surprised that we are here.
“It’s great we have races but for me, it’s shocking we are sitting in this room.”
When pressed on why that was the case, the six-time world champion cut to the chase – he said: “Cash is king.”
And that was it in a nutshell.
With the NBA suspended, football leagues either doing the same or playing without fans, and Donald Trump even banning flights into the US from 26 European countries – F1 stuck their heads in the sand.
They had plenty of warning, maybe more than other sports, as the Chinese GP was delayed a month ago.
Then there was the Italian outbreak and the entire country being put under lockdown, which was again pertinent to F1 with the sport’s most famous team Ferrari and AlphaTauri both being based there.
Still the decision was made to carry on, instructing all ten teams and their thousands of personnel to travel across the globe.
That’s in addition to the six-figure crowd expected to attend.
As Hamilton was pointing out that money was the driving force behind the decision, there was the perfect metaphor above him of an advertising board plastered with F1’s financially powerful sponsors including Rolex, DHL, Aramco, Pirelli, Emirates and Heineken.
He even highlighted another concern of his that a death might occur within the F1 community.
While the drivers are all young, a lot of the people in the sport such as media figures, ambassadors and team bosses are not.
Hamilton picked out three-time world champion Sir Jackie Stewart, who ironically was one of the main driving figures in making the sport so much safer on track.
But The Flying Scot is now 80 years old and sits well inside the profile of people who are most vulnerable to the coronavirus.
Hamilton said: “I saw Jackie Stewart this morning, looking fit, healthy and well in the lift.
“Some people as I walked into the paddock, some were elderly individuals.
“It’s a concern for the people as it’s quite a big circus that’s come here.”
This should have been handled so much better.
F1 as a sport has some of the sharpest minds, who are able to extract seemingly unbelievable performance from cars using all sorts of cutting-edge technology.
So why has the sport acted like a luddite?
‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ was not what F1 should have done.
It should have kept calm and acted with safety being its paramount concern, just like it does on track when it even stops races if the rain gets too heavy.
How have its owners – who are American company Liberty Media – been caught so badly with their pants down?
And even now if they do cancel the race, which looks like the only option, has the damage already been done by moving all these people around the world and possibly spreading the virus further?
Questions need to be answered and lessons learned.
By Chris Sweeney