Formula One gambled and lost on trying to start its 2020 season amid the worsening coronavirus pandemic, but its handling of a potential outbreak has called into question the judgement of those running the sport at its highest levels.
The appearance of the highly contagious COVID-19 virus inside the paddock was inevitable for a sport that was due to travel to 22 countries this year. The amount of international transit puts those working in Formula One among the most at risk of contracting the disease, and the confined working environment of each circuit is ideal for rapid transmission.
It was always a matter of when, not if.
McLaren has withdrawn from the Formula One Australian Grand Prix after a team member tested positive for COVID-19, plunging the season-opening round into doubt.
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.
“McLaren Racing has confirmed this evening in Melbourne that it has withdrawn from the 2020 Formula One Australian Grand Prix, following the positive test of a team member for the coronavirus,” the team said in a statement. “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.”
Never before has a Formula One season opened to such a plethora of unknowns heading into the first round of the season.
Six days of preseason testing revealed few concrete answers to consider in the weeks leading to the Australian Grand Prix.
Mercedes, the reigning six-time constructors champion, was quickest, but the German marque was uncharacteristically unreliable. Power unit problems plagued not only the works team across both three-day sessions but customer Williams too, which endured three frustrating stoppages.