By Alan Baldwin
(Reuters) - The June 14 Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal joined a growing list of Formula One races postponed due to the new coronavirus pandemic on Tuesday, with the 2020 season yet to get on the starting grid.
The race is the ninth to be affected by the virus, with the March 15 season-opening Australian Grand Prix cancelled along with May's showcase Monaco Grand Prix.
Commercial rights holder Liberty Media hopes to get the championship started in the European summer with a reduced and greatly rearranged schedule of between 15 and 18 races that could run into the New Year.
"At the moment it is crucial that all of our energies be put together to overcome COVID-19. We will welcome you with open arms at Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve as soon as it is safe to do so," said Canadian Grand Prix CEO Francois Dumontier.
The race is promoted by Octane Racing Group and organisers said the decision to postpone, after regular discussions with city authorities and Formula One, was not taken lightly.
"We have heard the directives issued by public health officials and as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic are following the expert guidance provided by the authorities," added the organisers.
Almost half the COVID-19 cases in Canada are in the province of Quebec, of which Montreal is the largest city, where premier Francois Legault said on Sunday he hoped to see new diagnoses peak in a number of weeks.
He also extended a shutdown of non-essential businesses for another three weeks to May 4.
Formula One chairman Chase Carey said Formula One supported the "necessary decision to ensure the safety of fans and F1 community.
"We always look forward to travelling to the incredible city of Montreal and while we will all have to wait a bit longer, we will put on a great show when we arrive later this year," he added.
Organisers said tickets would remain valid and spectators will be informed of their options when a new date was decided.
Canada will have two drivers this season with Nicholas Latifi a rookie at Williams while Lance Stroll continues at Racing Point, a team owned by his father Lawrence.
"Naturally, I’m sad that I’ll have to wait for the chance to race at my home F1 event," said Latifi on his website.
"Since I’ve been competing, my ambition has been to represent my country at the highest level. And I’ve been looking forward to June’s race in Montreal ever since I was announced as a driver with Williams.
"But as action to control the spread of the virus stepped up, and other Montreal festivals were delayed or cancelled, today’s news was inevitable, I guess."
Formula One now has to try to reschedule races in Bahrain, Vietnam, China, Azerbaijan, the Netherlands and Spain as well as Canada with France, Austria and Britain looking likely to join the list.
The British Grand Prix at Silverstone has set an April deadline to decide whether it can go ahead.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London, Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Toby Davis)