Gentlemen, shutter your engines. Formula 1, the flagship event of this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix has been cancelled. It comes amid reports that a McLaren Racing team member has contracted coronavirus, forcing the racing icon out of the Albert Park showdown. In an eleventh-hour statement this morning, the Formula 1, F1A and the Australian Grand Prix Corporation confirmed the nation’s biggest motor racing event would not go ahead.
“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, Formula 1 and the FIA 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. Formula 1 and the FIA, 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 joint statement read.
“We appreciate this is very disappointing news for the thousands of fans due to attend the race and all ticket holders will receive a full refund and a further announcement will be communicated in due course. All parties took into consideration the huge efforts of the AGPC, Motorsport Australia, staff and volunteers to stage the opening round of the 2020 FIA Formula One World Championship in Melbourne, however concluded that the safety of all members of the Formula 1 family and the wider community, as well as the fairness of the competition take priority.”
Previous reports had indicated that the Australian F1 event would still go ahead, albeit without fans. Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews 7News Sydney this morning that “On public health grounds, there will be no spectators at the grand prix this weekend if a race actually happens at all,” but alas, the announcement was in vain. McLaren’s departure from the event was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
The team made the heartbreaking decision to pull out last night. “McLaren Racing has confirmed this evening in Melbourne that it has withdrawn from the 2020 Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix, following the positive test of a team member for the coronavirus,” the team said in a statement.
McLaren Racing withdraws from the 2020 Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix. pic.twitter.com/BZvHVKQoev
— McLaren (@McLarenF1) March 12, 2020
According to McLaren Racing, despite the team member self-isolating as soon as symptoms emerged, the withdrawal was a matter of public safety. “Zak Brown, CEO of McLaren Racing and Andreas Seidl, team principal of the McLaren F1, informed Formula 1 and the F1A of the decision this evening. The decision had been taken based on a duty of care, not only to McLaren F1 employees and partners, but also the team’s competitors, Formula 1 fans and wider F1 stakeholders.”
The news spread quickly among racing circles, reportedly prompting fierce discussions over the future of the 2020 Australian Grand Prix. Sky Sports reported that the majority of teams decided against racing at Albert Park during talks held on Thursday evening.
Prior to the official announcement, Andrew Benson, BBC Sport’s chief F1 writer reported that drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen had already flown home.
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
For F1 fans, the cancellation is devastating, but the attention now falls to other events on the Australian Grand Prix itinerary. The Supercars event, which is slated to begin at 10am on Friday is apparently going ahead unchanged. “Gates have not opened, and we will keep Supercars fans updated as soon as new information is available. The latest advice from the Victorian government is that the event will run but there will be no spectators,” Supercars tweeted. A tough week for sports fans just keeps getting tougher.
While we are continuing to monitor the ongoing situation, the Supercars schedule at the @ausgrandprix remains unchanged.@VirginAustralia TV Times ? https://t.co/0k8ZgJtdnV #VASC pic.twitter.com/xFtM9CEd4y
— Supercars (@supercars) March 12, 2020