Formula One CEO Chase Carey: Australian GP cancellation was joint decision

Updated: Mar 13, 2020, 10:04 IST | Abhishek Takle | Melbourne

Formula One’s season-opening Australian Grand Prix has been cancelled after a member of the McLaren team tested positive for the new coronavirus that prompted the British squad to withdraw from the event

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton speaks to the media as Daniel Ricciardo of Renault Sport looks on in Melbourne yesterday. Pic /Getty Images
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton speaks to the media as Daniel Ricciardo of Renault Sport looks on in Melbourne yesterday. Pic /Getty Images

The decision comes after a meeting on Thursday evening between governing body FIA, the sport’s commercial rights holder and the bosses of the nine remaining teams, following the positive test result.

“Those discussions concluded with a majority view of the teams that the race should not go ahead,” Formula One, the FIA and local promoter Australian Grand Prix Corporation (AGPC) said in a statement on Friday morning.

“The FIA and Formula One, with the full support of the Australian Grand Prix Corporation (AGPC) have therefore taken the decision that all Formula One activity for the Australian Grand Prix is cancelled.”

Concerns over the outbreak, which the World Health Organisation classified as a pandemic, had already cast a cloud over the first weekend of the season after a total of nine paddock members — which included the McLaren employee and four Haas personnel — were tested for COVID-19.

The McLaren crew member was the only one who tested positive with results of one of the nine individuals who had been tested yet to come in.

Formula One and governing body FIA were criticised for their slow response, with no communication beyond an initial statement overnight and the cancellation announced on Friday morning almost 12 hours after McLaren’s withdrawal.

By then Lewis Hamilton’s world champion Mercedes team had already announced their decision to not race, with the squad beginning pack-up preparations at the track on Friday morning.

The AGPC said they had been informed of Formula One’s intention to cancel the race at 9 am on Friday. Around the same time, the state of Victoria said that the race would have to be held as a closed-door event if it went ahead.

“It was a joint decision, the FIA, our Australian partners ourselves, certainly input from the teams, as would be expected there were a range of views,” said Formula One CEO Chase Carey.

“We're dealing with things real time in a very difficult challenging situation.

“Were there differing views and differing opinions? Yes. And I think that's what everybody tried to wrestle through. But I think we got to the right place. And I think we all agree, we got to the right decision.”

The cancellation of the Australian race follows the postponement of the Chinese Grand Prix from its original April 19th slot which was announced last month.

The focus will now turn to the Bahrain Grand Prix which is set to take place as a closed door event on March 22nd, only a week after the Australian race would have taken place.

The rapid spread of the virus has forced the cancellation or postponement of several events including the first four races of the MotoGP season, Formula E races in the Chinese city of Sanya, in Rome and Jakarta.

The NBA also suspended its season until further notice.

Italy, home to Ferrari (who also provide engines to Alfa Romeo and American team Haas), Red Bull’s junior team Alpha Tauri, tyre supplier Pirelli and brake manufacturer Brembo, has emerged as a coronavirus hotspot in recent weeks.

Organisers of the Bahrain race have put special processes in place to facilitate teams, F1 personnel and media travelling from or transiting through restricted countries to enter Bahrain.

But how the McLaren development might now affect the event or Vietnam which follows with its debut on April 5th remains unclear. The latter has imposed strict travel restrictions including the cancellation of visa-exempt travel for Europeans.

“Obviously we have to deal with it imminently, so again, right now, our focus is dealing with the issues here in Australia for this weekend,” Formula One chief executive Chase Carey said.

“But clearly in the very short-term, we need to be addressing the immediately upcoming events.”

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