Vietnam postponed its debut Formula One Grand Prix on Friday, as fears over the spread of the deadly coronavirus decimated the start of the track season.
Scheduled for April 5, the Grand Prix in Hanoi was set to be the third race of the season and the first-ever to be held by the communist country.
Instead it has become the third event of the 2020 championship to be nixed as the virus throws global sport into disarray.
China has already postponed its Grand Prix to an unspecified date, while Australia on Friday cancelled the Melbourne race hours before practice sessions were due to begin.
The Bahrain race was initially due to be held behind closed doors, but it was also shelved soon after the announcement from Vietnam.
Forumla One, the most prestigious competition in motorsport faces unprecedented disruption as fears over the virus cause rip through the global sporting calendar.
“The organiser of Formula 1 … Vietnam Grand Prix 2020 officially announces the delay of F1 Hanoi race due to complicated development of Covid-19,” the Vietnam Grand Prix Company (VGPC) said in a statement.
“The decision to delay the race was made after several discussions and thorough consideration between FIA, Formula One World Championship Ltd, the People’s committee of Hanoi and VMA in the consensus of VGPC.”
It added: “This was a very hard decision as 2020 is the first year Vietnam became (an) official member among the 22 countries hosting the world’s most professional and attractive motor race.”
Ten-year race contract
Last year Vietnam signed a 10-year deal with Formula One to host an event state media said would cost the country $60 million per year.
Just a few weeks ago the country’s communist authorities remained bullish over the prospects for the country’s debut race around the 5.565 kilometre street track in Hanoi.
They insisted the Hanoi track was ready ahead of schedule and said the race would proceed as planned, making it the third street race on the calendar.
Hosts Vietnam were keen for the glamour of motorsport to reflect the country’s economic lift-off and help reshape Hanoi’s image as a staid communist capital.
But Hanoi residents were understanding of another disruption to their city with a global health crisis still billowing out.
“My kids were very excited to be able to go to the track to watch a real race,” said Le Nguyet, a Hanoi resident, who bought four tickets for $190.
“But I support the delay of the race until the situation gets better. It is a correct move. It’s not safe for that many people to gather.”
Vietnam on Friday raised the country’s total detected cases to 45, among them foreigners.
The Southeast Asian nation shares a porous border with China, where the virus first emerged, but for weeks said it had found only 16 cases of the sickness.
Districts and townships where cases have been detected have faced swift lockdown as daily life in Vietnam – like most of Asia – has been upended.
This year Lewis Hamilton is aiming to retain the F1 championship in his all-conquering Mercedes.