A late evening phone call between Daimler CEO Ola Kallenius and Mercedes Formula 1 boss Toto Wolff changed the fate of the Australian Grand Prix, Autosport learned.
Following confirmation from a member of the McLaren team that he had contracted a coronavirus, the Woking-based outfit withdrew from the opening of the F1 season Thursday night.
The move sparked a meeting between the other teams for talks with F1 general manager Ross Brawn at the Crown Hotel in Melbourne to discuss what should happen next.
FIA President Jean Todt having joined the meeting by telephone, it was agreed that the fate of the opening of the F1 season would depend on what the majority of the teams wanted to do.
The only circumstances in which the race could be canceled by the governing body and F1 were if four other teams withdrew from the race.
This is because article 5.7 of the F1 Sporting Regulations stipulates: “An event can be canceled if less than 12 cars are available for it.”
The options on the table were for cancellation or for teams to continue Friday practice – with or without spectators.
If F1 had crossed this day without any new case of coronavirus, it would have tried to see the rest of the weekend of the Australian GP.
It is understood that at this point Ferrari has already made it clear that it will not continue over the Melbourne weekend anything that has happened – this is why Sebastian Vettel had already booked an early morning flight in from Australia the next morning.
A first vote on the idea of continuing on this path was very favorable.
With Haas and Williams clearly explaining that they were happy to be part of the majority – effectively abstaining – four teams were in favor of running (Mercedes, Red Bull, AlphaTauri and Racing Point), and four clearly that they wouldn’t: Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, Renault and McLaren (which was considered a no because they had already retired).
With effective equality, it was decided that Brawn would have the casting vote to decide the direction of things – and he was in favor of Friday continuing at least before deepening the situation.
But before this motion was officially implemented, Wolff received a phone call from his boss Kallenius, who wanted to discuss the impact of the coronavirus situation and what Mercedes should do with its F1 team.
It is understood that although Kallenius left Wolff the final decision – so he did not order him to decide in one way or another – he clearly explained the duty of care that Mercedes had for its personnel and the F1 community at large.
Taking stock of the conversation, Wolff returned to the room and declared that he was now voting against continuing the Melbourne weekend.
This meant that five teams were ready to withdraw from the race – which meant that only 10 cars would be available.
It was beyond the trigger that the FIA needed, so it was enough for the F1 chiefs to inform the Australian Grand Prix Corporation Friday morning that the movement was underway to cancel the race.
Letters of withdrawal from teams that did not want to race were duly sent to the FIA.
However, it was important to know who triggered the final detente, because if the holder of the F1 commercial law acted unilaterally, it risked losing the huge race costs paid by the promoters.
At this point, Australian promoters were still determined to continue the weekend, even without the Grand Prix.
But at 9 a.m. on Friday morning, he was informed that F1 intended to cancel things out.
At the same time, medical advice from the Victorian government came in light of the coronavirus epidemic, no spectator would be allowed to enter the track.
This meant that there was now no choice but to cancel the event.