Correct as of 22:00GMT
Opening race set to be postponed
F1 has confirmed the Australian Grand Prix will not go ahead following a team meeting in Melbourne on Thursday night and into Friday morning. The meeting was called after McLaren confirmed it would withdraw after one of its staff members being confirmed as having coronavirus, F1 team bosses got together to discuss what to do.
Motorsport.com understands that in the talks with the FIA and F1 teams, a majority of squads said they were unhappy to continue with the event. The decision was made after the majority of teams voted to cancel the race. There has been no official confirmation of the decision to abandon the race as of yet, but it is understood a joint statement will be made by F1 and the FIA.
Eight F1 personnel have been tested for COVID-19 since the sport’s arrival in Melbourne, with seven of the tests coming up negative. Melbourne is the second race to be abandoned after the Chinese Grand Prix.
The Australian GP Corporation confirmed that, in total, eight F1 personnel had been tested for potential coronavirus by medical chiefs in the local state of Victoria. Seven returned negative results, with the individual from McLaren testing positive.
The situation developed rapidly with the teams called to a crisis meeting at 0200 local time where the decision was made to call the race off, but this is according to some websites. In total, eight F1 workers have been assessed and tested for Covid-19.
Seven were cleared on Thursday but an eighth, from McLaren, tested positive. Organisers said in a statement a ninth person had been assessed and tested, with the result pending. This person was “not associated with any F1 team, the FIA or associated suppliers”, the statement said.
There is no sense yet of the knock-on effects of the Australian race being called off, but the Bahrain Grand Prix, scheduled to be the second meeting of the season on 22 March, is now in serious doubt.
A decision is also expected imminently on the Vietnam Grand Prix, scheduled for 5 April, after the government in Hanoi banned travel into the country for anyone who has been in Italy – among other locations – in the previous 14 days.
The season could now start as late as May, the next race should be the Dutch Grand Prix. But as F1 enters its seventieth season it is uncharted territory, sportingly, financially and legally.
This weekend’s Australian Grand Prix may not go ahead despite McLaren’s withdrew when a team member tested positive for coronavirus. McLaren said the infected team member was now self-isolating in Australia.
This evening the sport is in crisis talks as the organisers the Australian Grand Prix Corporation (AGPC) said it was “in discussions” about “the broader implications of this test result”.
In a statement, McLaren said: “The decision has been taken based on a duty of care not only to McLaren F1 employees and partners, but also to the team’s competitors, Formula 1 fans and wider F1 stakeholders.”
The Australian Grand Prix Corporation (AGPC) said it was “in discussions” about “the broader implications of this test result”.
Eight tests for the virus had returned one positive result, it said, although the result from a ninth test was pending.
The race in Melbourne remains on but F1 said it was “coordinating with the relevant authorities on the next steps”, adding: “Our priority is the safety of the fans, the teams and all personnel at the race.”
On Friday morning it was reported that the race will go ahead without spectators.
The season could be suspended until May as the situation develops.
the FIA and organisers F1 have so far been led by the guidance of national governments in their attempts to keep the F1 calendar going in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis, but this is uncharted territory. In its seventy-year history, the sport has never faced a global crisis like this, and is the biggest threat to a Grand Prix season since the outbreak of World War Two.
Coronavirus financial impact
Williams deputy team principal Claire Williams fears that a series of cancelled races could impact the financial situation of the Grove team.
If events are cancelled Formula 1 won’t keep the hosting fees that are paid in advance by the promoters, and which contribute to the overall income which is shared by the teams and Liberty Media. The income streams from other sources could be hit.
Williams stressed that it was a priority to “safeguard our business,” and that it’s not year clear what the loss of races would ultimately mean for the teams. Adding that everyone in the sport is monitoring the situation, and the team has a steering committee.
Vietnam hangs in balance
The Vietnamese Grand Prix could be postponed because of the coronavirus outbreak. The race is scheduled to be held on 5 April but the country has said it will refuse entry to anyone who has been to Italy in the previous fourteen days.
The ban would mean Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi and personnel from Ferrari and Alpha Tauri and tyre supplier Pirelli could not enter the country. F1 boss Chase Carey is in Vietnam, trying to ensure the race goes ahead.
The teams and the FIA have agreed that if any team is barred from accessing a country the race will be cancelled. the practicalities involved and the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus outbreak could make that impossible.
Already the sport has postponed the Chinese Grand Prix, but so far no alternative date has been agreed.
There remains uncertainty about the rest of the calendar as countries seek to slow down the progress of the virus outbreak, which on Wednesday was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation.
Ferrari’s rivals want level playing field
Max Verstappen says Ferrari’s rivals just wants a “level playing field”, as the controversy over the FIA’s secret settlement with the Italian team continues.
Last week the seven non-Ferrari powered teams issued a joint statement expressing their unhappiness at the way motor racing’s governing body reached a private agreement with Ferrari amid suspicions over the legality of its engines.
The teams wrote a letter to the governing body with key questions they wanted answering, feel that matters should have been handled differently and want full disclosure of the details about the arrangement. The Dutchman accused Ferrari of cheating in November last year.
Speaking ahead of the opening race, he said that the teams wanted answers because they wanted answers to ensure that all competitors were treated equally.
Asked for his response to what was going on, Verstappen told Motorsport.com “Well, I leave that up to the teams. I think for everyone it’s important of course to have a level playing field. So that’s what we all want and that’s all I can say about it.”
Pushed on whether he felt that the FIA could be trusted in light of what has happened, he said: “Well, I think they – over the past – have been making the right decisions. So let’s see what the teams and the FIA come up with.”
The seven teams involved, Mercedes, Red Bull, McLaren, Renault, Williams, Racing Point and Alpha Tauri, had wanted a response to their questions from Todt before this weekend’s Melbourne race.
A letter seen by The Daily Mail, says that the president of the FIA Jean Todt has taken personal charge of matters and elected for a private settlement.
“Three options were available, Closing the case, bringing the matter before the International Tribunal or entering into a settlement and such decisions fall to the president of the FIA, in accordance with the FIA judicial and disciplinary rules,” the report quoted the letter as saying.
Vettel announces car name
Sebastian Vettel has continued his long-standing F1 tradition by naming his new car before the Australian Grand Prix, and the four-time world champion hopes ‘Lucilla’ is a 2020 title contender.
The four-times world champion told Sky Sports, “I think it fits in many ways.” He traditionally settles on a name during a pre-race dinner with his team of engineers and mechanics.
Vettel added, “I’m not disclosing all the inspirations that were on the table and all the names that were suggested! But there’s a bit of fun behind it. So let’s see if Lucilla is behaving well this year.”
The German has always named his car, in his first season his Toro Rosso ‘Suzie’, while his Red Bull’s had exotic names such as Kate’s Dirty Little Sister, Luscious Liz and Kinky Kylie.
Speaking about his hopes for the season, he added, “Whether we are as fast as we wanted, time will tell. But I think the car is a step forward, that’s what we feel, that’s what we measure. The question really is how much the others improved because in the end, it all depends relative to all the others where you are.”
Charles Leclerc is insisting that he “trusts” Ferrari and the FIA over their engine settlement despite protests from seven other F1 teams.
The seven teams who do not run Ferrari engines issued a joint statement last week saying they “strongly object” to the FIA’s decision to enter into a private settlement with the Scuderia after long-running investigations into their 2019 power unit.
But Leclerc said: “I fully trust my team, that’s for sure. And I trust the FIA for making sure it was all OK. So for me, it’s done and now I look to the future.