Australian GP set to be cancelled, crew member tests positive for coronavirus
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The Australian Grand Prix has been postponed following McLaren’s withdrawal from the Formula One season opener after a team member tested positive for coronavirus, according to reports.
The decision was made following a crisis two-hour summit involving F1’s hierarchy, its governing body, the FIA, and a number of the sport’s team principals in Melbourne, the BBC and Sky Television Association have reported. Motorsport.com quoted sources saying a majority of the teams were unhappy to continue and the governing FIA would accept the decision.
There has yet been no official confirmation from F1 or the sport’s governing body the FIA.
It comes after McLaren confirmed in a statement released on Thursday night that the team would not race at the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne.
McLaren Racing withdraws from the 2020 Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix. pic.twitter.com/BZvHVKQoev— McLaren (@McLarenF1) March 12, 2020
The team were the best of the rest in the 2019 season, finishing fourth in the constructors championship behind Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull.
But after one of the team was tested for the coronavirus, the team announced they would be withdrawing from the season-opening event.
“McLaren Racing has confirmed this evening in Melbourne that it has withdrawn from the 2020 Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix, following the positive test of a team member for the coronavirus. The team member was tested and self-isolated as soon as they started to show symptoms and will now be treated by local healthcare authorities.
“The team has prepared for this eventuality and has ongoing support in place for its employee who will now enter a period of quarantine. The team is cooperating with the relevant local authorities to assist their investigations and analysis.
“Zak Brown, CEO of McLaren Racing, and Andreas Seidl, Team Principal of McLaren F1, informed Formula 1 and the FIA of the decision this evening. The decision has been taken based on a duty of care not only to McLaren F1 employees and partners, but also to the team’s competitors, Formula 1 fans and wider F1 stakeholders.”
McLaren withdraw from the Australian Grand Prix after a team member contracts coronavirushttps://t.co/DCckpvJQA0— Formula 1 (@F1) March 12, 2020
The McLaren team member and four Haas team members were placed in self-isolation after being tested.
Results of the tests for the Haas staff have yet to be revealed.
Haas team principal Guenther Steiner said they had not yet discussed what to do if any of their employees tested positive.
“We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it,” he said.
The F1 and FIA released a statement after the news came through.
But the governing body has also been copping heavy criticism with fans demanding the event be cancelled.
The statement didn’t go down too well, with some people working in F1 left furious.
AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX UNDER THREAT
It threatens the Australian GP as F1 managing director Ross Brawn previously stated that a World Championship round would not take place if all teams weren’t present, but appeared to be suggesting if they were prevented from travelling to an event.
“If a team is prevented from entering a country we can’t have a race,” Brawn said.
“Not a Formula 1 world championship race, anyway, because that would be unfair. Obviously if a team makes its own choice not to go to a race, that’s their decision.
What astonishes me is that there has been no advice issued to those of us working in F1 about what we should do now. Should those of us who have had any contact with McLaren personnel self-isolate? As it stands, nothing. Priority surely should be to minimise the spread?— Edd Straw (@eddstrawF1) March 12, 2020
“But where a team is prevented from going to a race because of a decision of the country then it’s difficult to have a fair competition.”
It may not even be FIA’s choice however with Victoria’s chief health officer Brett Sutton reported saying he would step in to stop the race if necessary.
“If (the tests) turn up positive, we need to consider what it means for their close contacts and if they have a number of close contacts across a number of crews, then those individuals need to be quarantined,” Sutton told Melbourne radio station 3AW.
“If that effectively shuts down the race, then so be it. We’ll make that call.”
Earlier, F1 drivers took aim at FIA for running the event despite the coronavirus fears.
McLaren driver Carlos Sainz told Reuters that the drivers were confused as to whether they would be safe to be out and about in Melbourne.
“We are obviously concerned with the situation but we are drivers and we don’t really understand what is exactly going on worldwide, if it’s safe to do it in Australia or Vietnam or whatever,” he said.
“We are not miracle people, we are not governments …. and unfortunately we need to rely a bit on what others tell us.
“Everyone knows how quickly this thing is developing. Only time will tell if this is the right or the wrong thing to do.
“I am concerned, I think like everyone else in the paddock. But at the same time, at the moment, in my personal situation, I am in a comfortable situation.”
Defending world champion Lewis Hamilton said “cash is king” when asked why he believed the round was continuing.
“I am very, very surprised we are here,” he said according to Motorsport.com. “I think it’s great that we can have races, but for me it’s shocking that we’re all sitting in this room.
“I think it’s great that we have races, but for me it’s shocking that we’re all sitting in this room.”
HOW THE DRIVERS ARE DEALING
Australia has reported 150 cases of coronavirus so far, including among fans who attended the women’s T20 Cricket World Cup final and a Super Rugby match, both in Melbourne last week.
European countries that are home to many of the F1 teams and journalists at the grand prix have had far more cases.
Despite concerns, fans flocked to Albert Park on Thursday for a Supercars qualifying session.
“I’m not worried, I’m washing my hands and that’s the best thing to do,” said spectator Robert Clarke as he used a hand-sanitiser station.
The first F1 practice sessions are due to start on Friday.
In an attempt to limit interaction between drivers and fans, autograph sessions have been replaced by question and answer interviews, with selfies banned.
I’m an F1 and FIA apologist to rival any, but the lack of a response - and by association what appears to be a complete lack of preparation for this very situation - is beyond belief. Other team members have been told nothing so far #F1— Chris Medland (@ChrisMedlandF1) March 12, 2020
Media events have also been hit with Renault’s Ricciardo and Esteban Ocon “excused” from a press conference Wednesday, and an exclusion zone was enforced around Max Verstappen and Alex Albon at a Red Bull function.
Ocon was spotted wearing a mask in the paddock on Thursday, while teams scrapped all-in TV interviews, where media are tightly packed around the drivers, for the duration of the weekend.
The coronavirus has already hurt the sport with April’s Chinese Grand Prix postponed, while the second race of the year in Bahrain will be held without spectators.
The Australian Grand Prix Corporation said it was working closely with health authorities to take additional precautions at Albert Park, including having hand sanitisers at public areas and corporate facilities.
Cleaning and disinfection programmes have been increased and protocols implemented to respond to any suspected COVID-19 cases.
Over the weekend, the FIA said it was establishing a “crisis cell” to meet every two days to monitor the global threat posed by the virus.