The Formula One Australian Grand Prix has been cancelled as fears grow about the spread of the lethal coronavirus at big crowd events in Australia.
An official announcement was made by the F1 and the sport’s governing body, the FIA, on the race’s cancellation on Friday morning – more than an hour after the gates were due to open at Albert Park for the race’s official practice day.
Formula 1 and the FIA, with the full support of the Australian Grand Prix Corporation (AGPC), have taken the decision that all Formula 1 activity for the Australian Grand Prix is cancelled pic.twitter.com/rHbc7hlNvH
— Formula 1 (@F1) March 12, 2020
The FIA issued a joint statement with Formula 1 and grand prix organisers, confirming a meeting had been held overnight, and had concluded “with a majority view … that the race should not go ahead”.
“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.”
Daniel Ricciardo’s team, Renault, said it fully supported the decision.
“We are disappointed not to be able to race in front of the passionate Australian fans who have shown such support of our team and Daniel, however the health and safety of our team members and the wider F1 community is of paramount importance,” it said in a statement.
“Our thoughts are also with our partner team, McLaren Racing as they deal with a confirmed case of COVID-19.”
I’m devastated I can’t compete at my home GP here in Melbourne & get the season started. Ultimately though the right decision has been made & I think everyone can understand this is something we’ve never seen before. Sorry to all fans who came out for the support. Much love 💙
— Daniel Ricciardo (@danielricciardo) March 13, 2020
The announcement came within an hour of Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews stating fans would have been barred from the event, should it have gone ahead.
“From a public health point of view, if the event is to be run – I will leave [that] to grand prix officials, the F1 organising body, to make an official announcement,” Mr Andrews said in Sydney.
“On public health grounds, there will be no spectators at the Grand Prix this weekend – if a race actually happens at all.
“Now (organisers) are making the choice between no event or an event without fans.”
Mr Andrews was in Sydney on Friday for a COAG meeting to reach an with the federal government on funding the health implications of the coronavirus pandemic.
Friday’s official announcement axing the grand prix came just hours after grand prix chairman Paul Little insisted the F1 season-opener in Melbourne would go ahead, despite multiple reports to the contrary.
Little told the Nine network on Friday the race would go ahead.
Australian Grand Prix Chairman Paul Little told Sunrise fans will need to “wait and see” if this weekend’s event will be cancelled. pic.twitter.com/nmxZHMSYJV
— Sunrise (@sunriseon7) March 12, 2020
Eight F1 team members had been tested for coronavirus. Results released on Thursday revealed one, from McLaren, had tested positive to the potentially deadly virus.
McLaren subsequently withdrew from the event, which was to start on Friday with practice sessions for Sunday’s grand prix.
“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,” McLaren said.
“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.”
There have also been reports that Alfa Romeo driver Kimi Raikkonen and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel had already left Australia by early Friday morning.
Update coming on the @BBCSport website shortly but can confirm that Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen have flown back to Europe. As things stand, the race is still off, even if the organisers are not admitting. Why they are doing that is not clear
— Andrew Benson (@andrewbensonf1) March 12, 2020
Motorsport.com quoted sources saying a majority of the teams had been unhappy to continue and the governing FIA would accept the decision.
The cancellation follows the tide of the sporting world after a series of events were cancelled or delayed on Thursday in response to the deadly disease that has claimed more than 4600 lives.
McLaren chiefs reportedly told governing body FIA of their decision to pull out late on Thursday night.
Several team owners were reportedly unhappy to continue the Melbourne race.
On Thursday, six-time F1 champion Lewis Hamilton said he found it “shocking” that the race was being staged amid the global coronavirus pandemic.
“I am really very, very surprised that we are here,” the Mercedes star 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 … Formula One continues to go on – it’s definitely concerning for me.”