McLaren Racing has withdrawn from the season-opening 2020 Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix on Thursday night, following the positive test of a team member for the coronavirus.
Citing a ‘duty of care’, McLaren 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”.
“The team has prepared for this eventuality and has ongoing support in place for its employee, who will now enter a period of quarantine.
“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 statement from McLaren Racing chief executive Zak Brown and team principal Andreas Seidl read.
In a statement released shortly before midnight on Thursday, the Australian Grand Prix Corporation chief executive Andrew Westacott said seven of the the eight GP personnel tested in recent days have returned a negative result.
“AGPC and Formula 1 have been advised by the Victorian Chief Health Officer of the results of tests … [of] personnel from the Formula 1 paddock … confirming that they do not have the COVID-19 virus,” Mr Westacott said.
The individual who tested positive was from the McLaren Racing Team.
A ninth individual – not associated with any Formula 1 team, the FIA or associated suppliers – has been assessed and tested, with results pending.
Mr Westacott said the AGPC is in discussions with Formula 1, the FIA and the Department of Health and Human Services in relation to the broader implications of this test result and will provide updates as details become available.
McLaren said it is co-operating with authorities to assist their investigations and analysis.
McLaren Racing withdraws from the 2020 Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix. pic.twitter.com/BZvHVKQoev
— McLaren (@McLarenF1) March 12, 2020
McLaren Racing chief executive Zak Brown and McLaren F1 team principal Andreas Seidl informed Formula 1 and the FIA of the decision.
The news comes hours after six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton says it is “shocking” that the GP is being staged.
The 35-year-old Hamilton didn’t hold back after it emerged on Thursday that eight F1 team staff had been quarantined and tested for the virus in Melbourne, sparking fresh uncertainty about staging the Albert Park event.
“I am really very, very surprised that we are here,” the Mercedes driver said.
“For me it is shocking that we are all sitting in this (press conference) room.
“It seems like the rest of the world is reacting … you see the NBA has been suspended yet Formula One continues to go on – it’s definitely concerning for me.”
Haas initially reported that four staff had been quarantined with McLaren saying one team member had been affected.
Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos on Thursday warned that positive tests at Albert Park could stop Sunday’s race.
“We have not reached the point in time where we need to take these extreme measures, but we will not hesitate to take those steps if we get that advice because we will prioritise public health,” Ms Mikakos said.
The F1 calendar has already been affected by the novel coronavirus, with the Bahrain GP on March 22 (Round 2) banning fans and the Chinese GP (Round 4) being postponed.
Ferrari’s four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel, who is also a director of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association, said competitors may refuse to race if the number of coronavirus cases among F1 personnel became significant or someone died.
“My stand would be I hope it doesn’t get that far. If it gets that far, you’d pull the handbrake (on racing),” Vettel said.
Australia’s Renault F1 driver Daniel Ricciardo was more reserved.
“I have to put my trust in the (motorsport governing body) FIA,” Ricciardo said.
“(And) the racer in me is happy I am here.”