Australian Grand Prix expected to be called off

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Australian Grand Prix expected to be called off

Friday, March 13, 2020

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AFP) — The season-opening Australian Grand Prix is increasingly likely to be called off due to the coronavirus pandemic, a source suggested to AFP yesterday.

“The majority but not all of the stakeholders are in favour of this option,” the source said.

A crisis meeting was held to discuss whether Sunday's race in Melbourne should go ahead between the race organisers, the FIA, teams and Formula One promoters.

Most agreed that the first leg of the 2020 season should not be staged.

The race was thrown into chaos earlier in the day when McLaren pulled out after one of its team members tested positive for the virus.

The employee was among eight Formula One personnel who went into isolation after showing flu-like symptoms typical of the virus this week in Melbourne.

The other seven including four from the Haas team all returned negative results, organisers said.

Until any official confirmation is made the first free practice session is due to start at 1200 local time (0100 GMT) today.

“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,” McLaren said in a statement.

“The decision (to withdraw) 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's decision to pull out casts doubt over whether the race will be run without a full complement of teams, and whether others will follow suit.

World champion Lewis Hamilton earlier yesterday said he was stunned the race was going ahead as fears mount about the spread of the disease.

“I am really very, very surprised that we're here. I don't think it's great that we have races but it really is shocking that we're all sitting in this room,” he said at an official pre-race press conference packed with media.

“It seems that the rest of the world is already reacting a little bit late, but you have seen this morning with (President Donald) Trump shutting down the border to Europe to the States, the NBA suspended, yet Formula One continues to go on.

“It's a concern I think for the people here. It's quite a big circus that's come here, it's definitely concerning for me.”

The Mercedes star, who is gunning to match Michael Schumacher's record seven world crowns this season, sat alongside Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel and Renault's Daniel Ricciardo in the media session, but a large open space separated them from the press.

Asked why he felt the race was still on, Hamilton replied: “Cash is king.”

Four-time world champion Vettel said it was difficult to judge what to do as the virus continues its spread.

“Obviously we have to trust the FIA (International Automobile Federation) to take precautions as much as they can, but I think the answer that nobody can give you at the moment is how much you can control what is going on,” he said.

“As a matter of fact, we are here so you just try to take care as much as you can.”

Australia has reported 150 cases of coronavirus so far, including among fans who attended the women's T20 Cricket World Cup final and a Super Rugby match, both in Melbourne last week.

European countries that are home to many of the F1 teams and journalists have had far more cases.

Despite concerns, fans flocked to Albert Park yesterday for a Supercars qualifying session.


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