Organisers of the Australian Grand Prix have cancelled this weekends opening race following an outbreak of the coronavirus. In late-night talks which continued until the gates opened teams debated whether continue with the race weekend.
The crisis was sparked on Thursday when a member of McLaren tested positive for the virus and the team withdrew. In the following hour’s confusion spread as the nine remaining teams were called to the stewards for talks about the rest of the weekend.
BBC News understands Ferrari and Mercedes were the first teams to make it clear they were not prepared to race in Melbourne in the circumstances. Confirmation of the abandonment in from the FIA and F1 came after Mercedes sent a letter requesting the cancellation of the race.
A joint statement from the parties, “Following the confirmation that a member of the McLaren Racing Team has tested positive for COVID-19 and the team’s decision to withdraw from the Australian Grand Prix, the FIA and Formula 1 convened a meeting of the other nine team principals on Thursday evening.”
“Those discussions concluded with a majority view of the teams that the race should not go ahead. The FIA and Formula 1, with the full support of the Australian Grand Prix Corporation (AGPC), have therefore taken the decision that all Formula 1 activity for the Australian Grand Prix is cancelled.”
The season-opening race is the second race to be abandoned after the Chinese Grand Prix, which was postponed in February.
This morning it was announced a ninth individual has been assessed and tested for the COVID-19 virus, with the results of this test pending.
Mercedes said: “We share the disappointment of the sport’s fans that this race cannot go ahead as planned. However, the physical and mental health and wellbeing of our team members and of the wider F1 community are our absolute priority.
On Thursday afternoon, teams had agreed to carry on as normal on Friday and review the situation. But then in the early hours of Friday morning, the decision was made to cancel the race. Then the organisers and Liberty Media spent another six hours to hammer out the commercial agreement.
As the teams and media woke up, they were told to head to work as normal. This lead to fans being held outside Albert Park, before they were told to go home. The Australian Grand Prix Corporation has confirmed it will swiftly begin the task of sorting refunds to eligible ticket holders.
“The point I would make to the fans is that we are going to work through with the fans on the refunds applicable to their ticketing arrangements,” said CEO Andrew Westacott.
The whole season could be thrown into doubt as the sport tries to navigate complex contracts and the promoters have to face the question of what happens to all the fees that have been paid for races that might now never happen.
Next weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix is expected to be cancelled as the pandemic is only going to get worse in Europe over the next few weeks, F1 is now bracing itself for also calling off the Dutch, Spanish and Monaco Grands Prix.