Australian Grand Prix cancelled after 'shambolic' coronavirus confusion

Sam Goodwin
Sports Editor

The Australian Grand Prix has officially been cancelled after a ‘shambolic’ morning of confusion at Albert Park in Melbourne.

“At 9am today the Australian Grand Prix Corporation (AGPC) was advised by Formula One of their intention to cancel all Formula 1 activity at the Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix,” an AGPC statement said.

“In light of this decision and updated advice this morning from the Chief Health Officer of the Victorian Government's Department of Human and Health Services, the Australian Grand Prix Corporation confirms the Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix is cancelled immediately.”

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This weekend’s Supercars round - also scheduled to take place at the Australia GP - has been postponed as well.

The announcement came after Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said the event would be run without spectators if it was to go ahead.

“From a public health point of view, if the event is to be run - I will leave it to Grand Prix officials, the F1 organising body, to make an official announcement,” Andrews told reporters in Sydney.

“On public health grounds, there will be no spectators at the Grand Prix this weekend - if a race actually happens at all.”

Renault driver Esteban Ocon is seen wearing a mask at the Australian Formula One Grand Prix. (Photo by Speed Media/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Australian Grand Prix boss Paul Little earlier insisted the season-opener was going ahead despite multiple reports the race would be cancelled after a member of the McLaren team tested positive for coronavirus.

The McLaren team subsequently withdrew from the event.

Motorsport.com earlier quoted sources saying a majority of the teams were unhappy to continue and the governing FIA would accept the decision.

Eight F1 team members had been tested for coronavirus with results released on Thursday revealing one, from McLaren, had tested positive to the potentially deadly virus,

McLaren subsequently withdrew from the event, due to start on Friday with practice sessions for Sunday's Grand Prix.

"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 said in a statement.

Zak Brown, chief executive of McLaren Racing, talks to a team member in Melbourne. (Photo by WILLIAM WEST/AFP via Getty Images)

"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."

Overnight, the BBC and Sky Television Association reported the race would be stopped after a crisis meeting between F1 hierarchy.

A number of team owners were reportedly unhappy to continue the event.

Fans and pundits also reacted angrily to the lack of action being taken by F1 and FIA on Friday morning.

Lewis Hamilton blasts F1’s ‘shocking’ response

Mercedes driver and reigning F1 world champion Lewis Hamilton had earlier questioned why the race was going ahead when so many other sporting events around the world were being cancelled or closing doors to fans.

Asked if the grand prix should be held this week, the Mercedes driver said: "I am really very, very surprised that we are here.

"For me it is shocking that we are all sitting in this (press conference) room.

"It seems like the rest of the world is reacting ... you see the NBA has been suspended yet Formula One continues to go on - it's definitely concerning for me.”

Coronavirus has already made an impact on the F1 calendar.

Round two - the Bahrain GP - has banned fans from attending the March 22 race while the fourth stop on the series - the Chinese Grand Prix - has been postponed.

Lewis Hamilton and Daniel Ricciardo look on during a press conference at the Australian Grand Prix. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Yet fans still turned up in droves on Thursday for the opening day of Albert Park action to watch support categories which included Supercars practice and qualifying after Australian Grand Prix Corporation CEO Andrew Westacott earlier this week confirmed there was "no chance" of a spectator ban.

Asked why he thought the Australian GP was still going ahead, Hamilton said: "Cash is king, but I honestly don't know.

"The fact is we are here and I want everyone just to be as careful as they can be.

"I hope we get through this weekend and we don't see any fatalities or things like that in the future."

Ferrari's four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel - a director of the Grand Prix Drivers' Association - admitted competitors may simply refuse to race if the number of coronavirus cases among F1 personnel became significant or someone died.

"My stand would be I hope it doesn't get that far. If it gets that far, you'd pull the handbrake (on racing)," he said.

Australia's Renault F1 driver Daniel Ricciardo was more reserved.

"I have to put my trust in the (motorsport governing body) FIA," he said.

"(And) the racer in me is happy I am here."

with agencies