Australian Grand Prix cancelled amid pandemic

Events like the Grand Prix are worth multi-millions to Victoria's economy, but for how much longer?

Events like the Grand Prix are worth multi-millions to Victoria's economy, but for how much longer? Photo: Getty

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.

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.”

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.

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. 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.”

-with AAP

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