LONDON — Formula One organizers on Wednesday postponed the Chinese Grand Prix that was due to be staged in Shanghai in April, the latest sporting event impacted by the fast-spreading viral infection in the country.
More than 1,100 people have been killed in China by the virus, which has been named COVID-19 by the World Health Organization.
One of 22 races on the F1 calendar for 2020 that opens in Melbourne next month, the Chinese Grand Prix was due to be staged on April 19.
The decision to postpone the race was taken after a request from the Shanghai promoter to “ensure the health and safety of the travelling staff, championship participants and fans," F1 said in a statement.
Motor sport officials from F1's governing body, the FIA, Chinese organizers and teams will remain in discussions about whether the race can be rearranged this year.
“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,” F1 said.
“The reality of today, in most other countries, the number of people affected is a handful,” F1 Chief Executive Chase Carey 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 U.S. 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.”
Other virus-enforced cancellations or postponements range from soccer and Olympic qualifying events to golf tournaments.
The Tokyo Olympics open on July 24 and organizers have repeatedly said the games will not be cancelled or postponed. But many Olympic qualifying events are in disarray, with Chinese athletes not free to travel outside the country to participate.
Reuters contributed to this report.