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Returning to Normal: Motorsports Edition

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen during qualifying for the Formula One F1 Steiermark Grand Prix at Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Styria, Austria, June 26, 2021. (Leonhard Foeger/Reuters)

The Australian Grand Prix has been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. No, this isn’t news from last year.

The race was scheduled to be held on November 21, but the government of Victoria, the Australian state containing Melbourne, where the race is located, announced it wouldn’t let it go on as planned. “Given the very low national two-dose-vaccination numbers, and given the decision of national cabinet on Friday, we’re simply not in a position to give F1 management . . . the sorts of guarantees and assurances and comfort that they need this week,” said the Victorian sports minister.

How bad are Australia’s vaccination numbers? As of today, only about 25 percent of Australians have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Australia is slightly ahead of India (21 percent), on par with Mexico, and well behind Brazil (37 percent). Australia is, however, ahead of New Zealand, the country whose prime minister was praised effusively by the New York Times editorial board in April 2020 for her pandemic leadership. New Zealand is coming in at around 15 percent.

For perspective, the U.S., which much of the media would have you believe has been uniquely awful in its handling of the coronavirus, comes in at 55 percent. Our racing schedule is happening as planned. NASCAR and IndyCar races are now being held with full crowds and hardly a mask in sight. They haven’t been “superspreader events” because vaccines work, and lots of people are vaccinated.

The Australian Grand Prix had been the first race on the Formula 1 calendar almost every year since the race moved to Melbourne in 1996. The season ordinarily starts in March, when the weather is considerably nicer in Australia than it is in Europe (where much of the season takes place). Since F1 is one of the most popular sports in the world, the Australian Grand Prix is widely anticipated by millions of race fans, and it regularly draws six-figure attendance. Canceling the event for the second year in a row is a huge loss for the country.

The 2020 race was scheduled to be on March 15, right when the coronavirus pandemic was first starting. The race was canceled, just like most sporting events around the world. Efforts to reschedule to later in the year didn’t work out, which was expected since planning an event like that in the first place is difficult enough. So the F1 season didn’t have an Australian Grand Prix for the first time since 1946.

The date for the 2021 race was moved to November to give Australia more time to prepare. They couldn’t pull it off. Otherwise healthy Australians under age 40 still aren’t even eligible for vaccination. All American adults have been eligible for vaccination since the middle of April.

Don’t let the media’s insistence on 24/7 doom and gloom get you down. The U.S. is in the top tier of countries for vaccine rollout, and it’s leaps and bounds ahead of Australia and New Zealand. The U.S. Grand Prix will be held on October 24 this year, right around the time of year it’s normally held. It’s not crazy to think the American population could be more than 75 percent vaccinated by that time. And race fans will have a blast when the lights go out and 20 cars squeal off the grid at Circuit of the Americas for the first time since 2019.

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