Formula One’s Chinese Grand Prix has been postponed due to the recent outbreak of coronavirus in the country, organisers said on Wednesday.
The race, in what is an important market for Formula One, was originally set to be held in Shanghai on April 19, but the governing body FIA and Formula One said in a statement that they had jointly decided to postpone it.
“As a result of continued health concerns and with the World Health Organisation declaring the coronavirus as a global health emergency, the FIA and Formula 1 have taken these measures,” the two bodies said.
“The FIA and Formula 1 continue to work closely with the teams, race promoter, CAMF and the local authorities to monitor the situation as it develops."
“All parties will take the appropriate amount of time to study the viability of potential alternative dates for the Grand Prix later in the year should the situation improve.”
The flu-like virus has killed more than 1,100 people and infected more than 44,000 in China after it first emerged in the central city of Wuhan late last year.
A host of international sporting events have been cancelled due to coronavirus, including the all-electric Formula E motor racing series that abandoned plans for a race in the Chinese city of Sanya next month.
Speaking to reporters last week, Formula One’s motorsport managing director Ross Brawn had said the sport would look to reschedule the Chinese race rather than cancel it altogether.
The sport’s Chief Executive Chase Carey said fitting the race back into an already packed calendar with few spare weekends would pose a challenge.
“At this point it’s tough to make too many specific plans when there are so many unknowns around it,” Carey told Reuters in an interview at a conference in the Azeri capital and Formula One host Baku.
Carey also said the sport was keeping an eye on the spread of the virus outside China to other countries in the region such as Vietnam, which is set to host its first race on April 5.
“The reality of today, in most other countries, the number of people affected is a handful,” he said. “But we don’t know what it will be in a week or two.”
The Chinese Grand Prix, which debuted in 2004, is an important event for Formula One, with the sport keen to tap into the opportunity presented by the country’s vast population and growing middle class.
Hosting fees also make up a significant portion of Formula One’s revenues, with some races paying as much as $40 million a year.
A cancellation as a result could mean a financial hit for the sport’s US owners Liberty Media.
The last race to be cancelled was the 2011 Bahrain Grand Prix, due to social unrest in the island Kingdom. But the country still paid the hosting fee despite the cancellation of the race.
If it cannot be rescheduled, the cancellation of the Chinese race will pare the calendar back to 21 races from the record 22 Formula One was set for this year.
It would also leave a four-week gap between new addition Vietnam and the returning Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort on May 3.
Asked about the possibility of reviving races that have fallen off the calendar as one-off events to take China’s place, Carey said Formula One was evaluating all contingencies.
The time available is short, however, and organisers of any such one-off race would also likely expect their hosting costs to be underwritten.
“We’re not going to do something that isn’t good for us or the teams,” said Carey. “We like the 22-race calendar (but) we’re fine with a 21-race calendar.”