Formula One has called off Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix, the opening race of its 2020 season, after a McLaren team member tested positive for coronavirus on Thursday evening.
McLaren confirmed a member of its team had entered quarantine after contracting the virus, leaving the British team no option but to pull out of the event. Fellow F1 team Haas had four team members tested, although each came back negative and a total of eight people from the paddock received negative outcomes from tests.
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McLaren’s withdrawal was followed by meetings between F1 bosses, teams and race organisers about the status of the event. Despite reports saying the race was due to be cancelled, there was no statement from F1 until Friday morning.
The Melbourne race was supposed to be the opening event of the 2020 season. At the start of the week race chiefs insisted it was going ahead as usual, fully open to spectators, although precautionary measures were being taken.
Shortly before the race was officially cancelled, reigning world champions Mercedes released a statement saying it had written a letter to F1 and racing’s governing body, the FIA, asking for the race to be cancelled as it could no longer guarantee the safety of its employees.
That was followed by confirmation from F1 that the race will not take place, a decision made in conjunction with the FIA and Australian Grand Prix Corporation (AGPC). The race weekend’s track action was due to start later that day, with the first of two 90-minute practice sessions set to begin at midday.
Before McLaren’s test results were made public, reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton had questioned the decision to hold the race as scheduled, saying on Thursday that “cash is king,” while Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel said F1 had to be prepared to “pull the handbrake” on the 2020 season if someone in the F1 community or related to it died as a result of the virus.
The Bahrain Grand Prix is set to take place on March 22 behind closed doors, but it remains to be seen whether the status of that race changes. McLaren has yet to confirm whether it will travel to the race.
The Chinese Grand Prix, which was set to take place on April 19, was postponed last month at the request of the race organisers. F1 is still hoping to reschedule the Shanghai event in the second half of the year.
The Australian Grand Prix confirmed ticket holders would receive a full refund after many were left waiting outside the gates on Friday morning before the decision was made public.