Hamilton shocked Aussie GP being held

Laine Clark
Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton says it is "shocking" that the season-opening Australian Grand Prix is being staged amid a global coronavirus pandemic.

Hamilton didn't hold back after it emerged on Thursday that eight F1 team staff had been quarantined and tested for the virus in Melbourne, sparking fresh uncertainty about staging the Albert Park event.

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.

Haas initially reported that four staff had been quarantined with McLaren saying one team member had been affected. Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos confirmed there were another three potential cases but would not divulge any further details.

The grand prix is due to start with practice sessions on Friday with test results for those who may have contracted the disease expected to be announced within 24 to 72 hours.

Mikakos warned that positive tests at Albert Park could stop the race from being held on Sunday.

"We have not reached the point in time where we need to take these extreme measures but we will not hesitate to take those steps if we get that advice because we will prioritise public health," she said on Thursday.

Minister for Health, Jenny Mikakos. (Photo by Luis Ascui/Getty Images)

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.

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."