Drivers steer F1 to cancel Australian GP

Laine Clark
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MOTOR RACING F1 GRAND PRIX

The Australian Formula One Grand Prix has been cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak

Pressure from disgruntled drivers has forced Formula One bosses to make the unprecedented call to cancel the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne.

Following confusion over the race's status ahead of Friday's practice, organisers finally called off the F1 season-opener at 9am (AEDT), saying it was based on an update received from the Victorian government's chief health officer.

"I want to express our disappointment on behalf of the fans," F1 CEO Chase Carey said.

"(But) in many ways this is an unprecedented situation. I have never lived through anything like this.

"You have to digest (information) and make the decision you think is right, and I think we did here."

Leading drivers including six-time world champion Lewis Hamilton told F1 bosses to pull the pin over health fears at a Thursday night crisis meeting.

They did not want to take part following the McLaren team's withdrawal from the season opener after one of their mechanics tested positive for the coronavirus.

It is believed the mechanic came into contact with up to 14 members of his team.

Only three of the 10 F1 teams - Red Bull, their sister team AlphaTauri and Racing Point - indicated at the meeting they were still keen to race.

But some of the sport's biggest names refused to compete due to the McLaren positive test, with former world champions Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen believed to have flown out of the country by the time the race was officially called off.

Hamilton put pressure on officials with his scathing criticism of F1's handling of the situation earlier on Thursday, saying it was "shocking" the event was taking place amid health fears.

He also posted a picture on Instagram saying he did not want to leave his Melbourne hotel room.

His Mercedes team upped the ante by releasing a statement on Friday morning requesting the race's cancellation before organisers officially pulled the pin.

"In light of the force majeure events we are experiencing with regards to the coronavirus pandemic, we no longer feel the safety of our employees can be guaranteed if we continue to take part in the event," the statement said.

Hamilton claimed on Thursday the only reason the season opener was still scheduled to be held was because "cash is king" for F1.

But Carey said on Friday: "If cash is king we wouldn't have made the decision we made today.

"As the situation changed day to day, and sometimes hour to hour, we continued to evaluate that and made the appropriate decision."

Hamilton was back on social media after the race's cancellation, saying it was the "right call".

"Sadly this is the right decision. No one wants this ... but we have to be realistic and we must put health and safety first," he tweeted.

"I hope to be back racing soon but in the meantime look after yourselves."

Alarm bells were ringing for the Albert Park event after McLaren's withdrawal due to the mechanic's positive test.

Organisers said another seven team officials across numerous F1 outfits had also been assessed and tested in Melbourne but were cleared.

They said a ninth person, who was not a member of an F1 team, was still being tested.

However, BBC Sport reported that McLaren had another 14 team members placed in quarantine in their Melbourne hotel for the next 14 days because of contact with the mechanic.