There’ll be no repeat of the Novak Djokovic visa debacle when Formula 1 returns to Melbourne in April, according to Australian Grand Prix boss Andrew Westacott.
The lead-up to the Australian Open was overshadowed by the circus surrounding the world No.1, who was eventually deported from the country on the eve of the tournament, after immigration minister Alex Hawke cancelled his visa.
The Formula 1 teams haven’t been to Australia since March 2020, when that year’s race was cancelled at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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Since then Formula 1 has staged 39 races, with a further two to open the 2022 season before the teams arrive in Melbourne.
While the overwhelming majority of the world’s top tennis players are vaccinated, the focus inevitably fell on those, such as Djokovic, seeking an exemption.
That’s not a problem Westacott is expecting when Formula 1 comes to town.
“I can only control the things that we’re in charge of,” he told Wide World of Sports.
“What I know is that there’s more to these things than just the things in the public domain. Our job is about making sure all of the key stakeholders are aware. The conditions are clear, it simply comes down to being 100 per cent vaccinated and no exemptions.
“When you look at the great job that the tennis has done, there’s plenty of people here playing tennis, the issue was with one outlier.
“We don’t expect there to be outliers, and Formula 1 doesn’t expect there to be outliers.
“That’s the key differential between Formula 1 and the tennis.”
Westacott said he’s planning for crowds to be at 100 per cent capacity, even though the Australian Open is currently restricted to 50 per cent. He pointed out the outdoor nature of the circuit made it easier to organise COVID-safe event.
A number of drivers have missed races in the past two seasons as a result of a positive COVID-19 test. That’s not expected to change this season, meaning the door is ajar for 20-year-old Australian Oscar Piastri to make his Formula 1 debut.
The Melburnian, who grew up 15 minutes from the Albert Park circuit, conceded that an F1 debut in the week of his 21st birthday would be a dream come true.
“Not every driver gets a home race, I’m lucky that Australia has a race and it’s so close to where I grew up,” Piastri told Wide World of Sports.
“Obviously you don’t wish for any troubles for either Fernando or Esteban, but I wouldn’t say no if the chance arose.”
Piastri’s manager, nine-time grand prix winner Mark Webber, told Wide World of Sports that the season ahead promises to be unpredictable, and Piastri could find himself making an unexpected debut.
“Being ready, both mentally and physically, is the most important thing for Oscar,” Webber said.
“Anything could happen, and it could happen quickly.
“Anything can pop up, it will be a random scenario that we least expect, that’s why he has to be ready.
“Oscar won’t care where it is, he’d be absolutely stoked to be there.”
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