The Formula One Australian Grand Prix has been cancelled after a McLaren employee tested positive for COVID-19 and triggered the team to withdraw from the race.
The member of staff self-isolated on Wednesday after reporting coronavirus symptoms, and the team announced late on Thursday night that tests had confirmed they are infected with the virus.
Formula One subsequently announced after an excruciating 12-hour delay that the Melbourne race would be cancelled, with confirmation coming from the governing body, the FIA, after 10am Friday local time.
“The FIA and Formula One convened a meeting of the other nine team principals on Thursday evening,” a joint statement of the FIA and the Australian Grand Prix Corporation read. “Those discussions concluded with a majority view of the teams that the race should not go ahead.
“The FIA and Formula One, with the full support of the Australian Grand Prix Corporation (AGPC) have therefore taken the decision that all Formula One activity for the Australian Grand Prix is cancelled.”
“All parties took into consideration the huge efforts of the AGPC, Motorsport Australia, staff and volunteers to stage the opening round of the 2020 FIA Formula One World Championship in Melbourne, however concluded that the safety of all members of the Formula One family and the wider community as well as the fairness of the competition take priority.”
The Australian Grand Prix corporation released a further statement highlighting updated governmental advice banning mass gatherings in the state of Victoria made on Friday morning.
“At 9am today the Australian Grand Prix Corporation was advised by Formula One of their intention to cancel all Formula One activity at the Formula One Australian Grand Prix,” it read.
“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 One Australian Grand Prix is cancelled immediately.”
Formula One has been dealing with several suspected cases of the COVID-19 virus since Wednesday afternoon, with nine people self-isolated and referred for further tests, at least five of whom were members of a team, including four from Haas and one from McLaren.
The Australian Grand Prix Corporation confirmed eight results had been returned by Thursday night, including the positive test that triggered McLaren’s withdrawal, with one further case “not associated with any Formula One team, the FIA or associated suppliers” still pending.
The ninth suspected case is reportedly a photographer.
The Victorian chief health officer had said on Thursday morning that he expected a positive test from any individual team member would result in several other personnel requiring quarantine and testing to prevent the further spread of the highly contagious virus.
The Bahrain Grand Prix, scheduled for next weekend, 22 March, must also be considered in doubt considering the island kingdom’s already stringent entry requirements to avoid importing new cases of the virus, notwithstanding Formula One’s efforts to work with authorities to ensure the running of the event.
The inaugural Vietnam Grand Prix, set for 5 April, is also tentative, with Chase Carey having stopped in host city Hanoi this week to sure up support for the race to continue despite the unfolding pandemic.
Reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton said on Thursday, before the McLaren announcement, that he was “shocked” the race appeared to be going ahead as planned.
“I am really very, very surprised that we’re here,” he said. “It’s shocking that we’re all sitting in this room.”
“It seems like the rest of the world is reacting, probably a little bit late, but … Formula One continues to go on.”
Asked why he thought the race was continuing apace, Hamilton was blunt: “Cash is king”.