The season-opener for the MotoGP Championship is once again under doubt, as question marks over the Americas GP in Austin are beginning to grow.
The concern comes from several factors, including local government moves in Austin that happened last Friday, which saw the Texan city declare a “state of disaster” for the metropolitan area and surrounding county because of concerns regarding the global coronavirus outbreak.
Of one of the several provisions laid out by the state of disaster declaration is that events with more than 2,500 people can only take place if the organizers can show that mitigation plans for infectious diseases are in place. Each event is being evaluated case-by-case by the Austin Public Health department.
Because of this, we have already seen the cancelation of the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival, and if it continues beyond its initial one-week implementation (which it likely will), the Grand Prix of the Americas could fall victim to it as well.
On the other side of the world, factors are also lining up to scuttle hopes for an American MotoGP race, as Italy has clamped down roughly 16 million citizens in the northern areas of the country, which is currently a hotspot for coronavirus outbreaks.
The quarantine bars all international travel from these regions, which are home to many grand prix teams and riders (including Valentino Rossi), and includes the factories for Aprilia and MV Agusta motorcycles (though, not Ducati).
The Italian government is allowing travel for “emergency” purposes however, but it is hard at this time to judge whether getting on a plane for a MotoGP race is considered an emergency situation in the eyes of the Italian government.
(EDIT: As of Tuesday, March 10th, the Italian government has expanded its quarantine of the northern region to include the entire country, allowing travel for only work and emergencies.)
With the grand prix paddock naturally being tight quarters for a bevy of world travelers, the realities of transmitting the coronavirus within it are very real concerns.
Right now, Dorna’s strategy in regards to the pandemic appears to be more of a “wait and see” approach, with the media rights holder weighing its options more by penalty clauses in contracts, rather than from a public health perspective.
As such, it will likely take an action by a city, state, or national government in order to cancel/postpone the Austin MotoGP round, or any other grand prix round for that matter – as has been the case in Qatar and Thailand thus far.
The fate of Americas GP should be known in the coming days (we have heard everything from tomorrow to this time next week), but the indications are not looking strong for the Austin round at this time.
We will of course be closely watching this story as it develops. Be sure to check back for updates.