THE Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne has been cancelled due to coronavirus.
The Formula One season opening round was set to start with Friday’s practice but was under a cloud after McLaren pulled out when a team member tested positive to the virus on Thursday.
“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.”
AGPC and F1 officials will hold a press conference on the announcement at 1130 AEDT.
Alarm bells were ringing for the opening grand prix after McLaren’s departure.
Another seven team officials across numerous F1 outfits had also been assessed and tested in Melbourne but were cleared of the virus.
The AGPC said a ninth person, who was not a member of an F1 team, was still being tested.
“Last night a member of the McLaren Racing team tested positive for the COVID-19 virus,” the AGPC said.
“A further seven individuals returned negative results, confirming that they do not have the COVID-19 virus.
“Additionally, a ninth individual has been assessed and tested for the COVID-19 virus, with the results of this test pending.
“This individual is not associated with any Formula 1 team, the FIA or associated suppliers.
“Our first priority is the safety of everyone including attendees, our personnel, all event partners and members of the local community.”
The statement confirmed the grand prix’s status after confusion reigned on Friday morning.
After overnight reports the Albert Park event had been called off, Australian grand prix boss Paul Little told Nine Network on Friday morning that it would go ahead.
Victorian premier Daniel Andrews responded in Sydney by saying the grand prix would be run without spectators if it was still being held.
However, the portents weren’t good for the opening grand prix after reports that the race would be scrapped following a crisis meeting between F1 hierarchy late on Thursday night.
It is believed team bosses expected confirmation of its cancellation from F1 officials or the FIA on Thursday night but it failed to happen.
However, BBC Sport reported that former world champions Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen had taken matters into their own hands and flown out of Australia on Thursday night.
On Thursday, six-time F1 champion Lewis Hamilton said he found it “shocking” that the race was being staged amid a global coronavirus pandemic.
“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,” the Mercedes star said.
It remains to be seen how the grand prix’s cancellation impacts on the rest of the season.
Organisers have already banned fans from attending the Bahrain event on March 22 race while the Chinese Grand Prix has been postponed.
Meanwhile, AGPC officials said they would release information later regarding ticket refunds.