June 19th, 2005.
In a living room in Greenford, West London, a 12-year-old boy named Andre Harrison was sitting down with Mum’s Sunday Roast. On the screen, the United States Grand Prix. He was delighted with the fact that for once, we could watch as a family over a meal.
You see, for Dre (His Mum started calling him this around this time), F1 was still kinda split in the household. Dad loved his cars, his bikes, his football, and his £200 jeans. (Seriously.) A massive fan of Michael, Valentino, and Ruud van Nistelrooy. Mum never got what all the fuss was about. Educated, but not for her. But nothing was getting in the way of this one on the main screen.
Dre wasn’t the most knowledgeable fan in the world, but he too loved Michael. But he was actually intrigued by the bigger picture in this one. He was somewhat concerned that the main story in the ITV previews was of Toyotas in the fence at the final turn.
Ralf Schumacher suffering a tyre failure taking the final banked corner at 200mph. But despite this, teammate Jarno Trulli started the race on pole, a race he had a genuine chance to win. He was kinda getting used to BAR-Honda and Jenson being up the front, but not a Toyota. He thought that was neat.
Dre could tell on the grid walk with Martin, that things didn’t quite seem right. Bernie wasn’t his usual witty, dry humouring self. There seemed a real state of panic. A sense that something horrible was about to happen. Dre was too busy stuffing his face with Mum’s steak (well done, because he is a heathen), to pick out anything more than half-heard mumbles of chicanes on the final turn. Easing off in Turn 13. Maybe even cars not racing. But that sounded preposterous. (And he couldn’t even spell the word back then)
The formation lap starts, and about 90 seconds later… nearly everyone peels into the pits. It’s a six-car race. The Ferrari fan in Dre, smiles and laughs at first. The 2005 season had been a reality check. Gone was the bandwagoning dominance of the year before. He didn’t know Bernie had intentionally screwed the rules like Seto Kaiba to try and kerb all that winning.
So a guaranteed 1-2 was just what the doctor ordered. Little did he know the political chaos behind the scenes. Or the ramifications, and the damaged reputation that F1 in America is still recovering from, 15 years later. He saw the booing, the thrown bottles, etc. He knew deep down, we weren’t going to hear the end of this… but the arctic roll in the freezer was coming out. And that was important too.
15 years on… while the Arctic Roll went out of fashion, and I still like my steak well done, the anger and confusion still remain, in what will probably go down as one of the sports’ black marks.
Upon reflection, it all just sounds… so stupid. So unnecessary. A Grand Prix, NOT cancelled until the eleventh hour in the middle of a global pandemic. A race set to have 330,000+ fans visit Albert Park over the three days. A race that still took 12 agonising hours to cancel after McLaren did the right thing and pulled out after one of its team members tested positive for COVID-19.
F1, the FIA and the track promoters at loggerheads trying to keep the race alive at all costs, flirting with the idea of a closed-doors event, while thousands of confused fans are kept at the gates, as no-one wanted to take accountability. The integrity of trusted F1 figures like Ross Brawn making big claims like: “If a team can’t make it, we won’t race”, and the lack of real action until the worst-case scenario hit.
This is a paddock where Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen had already flown home to be with their families. Two men with over 550 races between them who had already decided “This isn’t worth it”. Lewis Hamilton, the man with arguably the most to gain, soon joined. Charles Leclerc soon after. Amazing, when you consider that the driver is the person we as fans will almost always hail as the person who wants to race “no matter what”.
The fact that the teams got into a huddle, with Mercedes and Honda willing to race and take advantage of others rightful scepticism. I mean, shit, it took a direct call from CEO of owners Daimler to take Toto and the Mercs teams out. I pity the Red Bull PR department trying to clean up the mess with them rumoured to have been the last team willing to race.
And by all accounts, the joint statement upon the cancellation of the race was in direct contradiction of what many at the track reported. The press said, there was a 5-5 split amongst the teams, while the sport’s statement which claimed the majority of the teams disagreed. If that statement is true (Which I doubt), WHY THE HELL WAS IT NOT CANCELLED RIGHT THERE AND THEN?
It’s like that triple face-off scene from the US version of “The Office” where F1, the FIA and the promoters are in a standoff over who takes the accountability. It took government intervention from Victoria to say: “Lads, this shit ain’t happening.”
According to a friend of the show who was in Melbourne, the Sky Sports News crew, the race presenters knew the wasn’t going to happen, had left by the time the cancellation, but then had Craig Slater reporting the race was still going to go ahead. Big yikes. This, the same time as Andrew Benson of BBC, reporting the race was going to be cancelled. Bigger yikes.
The dust has since settled. Bahrain and Vietnam have now been postponed, so along with China, we’re probably not seeing any action until the end of May. The August winter break might be scrapped to make up the time. Even if Australia does get a redo, you think anyone’s going to show up again after this? Like with USA 05’, it was a breach of trust that took YEARS to repair.
And that’s the worst part of all this. This is way worse than USA 05. Indianapolis was a suppliers incompetence and the sport failing to find a solution to “the show”. This was the sport’s horrendous communication that genuinely could put lives at risk through a mass gathering that never needed to happen. The moment McLaren pulled out, the rest should have followed suit. The entire weekend is a massive health risk. This was all, SO unnecessary, it makes you want to pull your hair out at how badly the sport got it wrong.
McLaren Racing withdraws from the 2020 Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix. pic.twitter.com/BZvHVKQoev— McLaren (@McLarenF1) March 12, 2020
We’re not going to be racing for a while. Now, more than ever, we need those at the highest level to sit down, beat their heads together, and figure out how we’re going to work 2020 out. This isn’t just about saving races, it’ll be about monitoring the situation with the pandemic itself. Ideally, you probably shouldn’t eliminate the summer break, or jam the calendar together.
I know MotoGP is doing this right now with their calendar, but man does 8 races in 10 weeks sound crippling. At least, as a series, they took no chances the moment Qatar had a 2-week quarantine applied on entry. I’m not saying this is easy, but you have time. Let’s get this right.
And on a personal level, there’s many independent journos and freelancers that could be struggling with the lack of work, and costs involved with that. If you can, please support them during what could be a very difficult time. As much as we love this sport, this is about so much more than that. Take care of yourselves, and each other.