The launch of the 2020 FIA Formula 1 World Championship with the inaugural race at the Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park in Melbourne this weekend (March 13-15 2020) hangs in the balance. The race had the large shadow of the global spread of the novel coronavirus hanging over it for several days.
Today the McLaren F1 team has announced that it is withdrawing from the first race of the season following a member of its team testing positive for the coronavirus. The team member will be quarantined and will be treated according to the advice of the local healthcare authorities.
The Australian Grand Prix promoters are in discussions with the main stakeholders (the FIA, Formula 1, local state authorities) on the implications of the McLaren withdrawal for the race. The first free practice session is set for Friday morning as the ongoing crisis talks are taking place.
The cancellation of sporting events worldwide including the NBA suspending its season because of the coronavirus will weigh heavily on the organizers and Formula 1.
Eight members of the Formula 1 paddock which included the McLaren team members and four members of the Haas F1 team were tested for the coronavirus. One McLaren team member has tested positive. All other tested members have been cleared after their tests were negative. The test results of a local photographer is still pending.
In the latest statement from Andrew Westacott, the Australian Grand Prix Corporation CEO, said: “The Australian Grand Prix Corporation and Formula 1 have been advised by the Victorian Chief Health Officer of the results of tests relating to eight personnel from the Formula 1 Paddock.
“Of these eight tests, seven individuals have returned a negative result confirming that they do not have the COVID-19 virus. An eighth individual has tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. It has been confirmed that the individual was a member of the McLaren Racing Team. As a result of this, McLaren has announced its withdrawal from the Formula 1 Rolex Australian Grand Prix 2020.
“The AGPC is currently in discussions with Formula 1, the FIA and the Department of Health and Human Services in relation to the broader implications of this test result.
“Additionally, a ninth individual has been assessed and tested for the COVID-19 virus, with the results of this test pending. This individual is not associated with any Formula 1 team, the FIA or associated suppliers.
“The AGPC will provide updates as further details become available.”
The fate of the first race of the season hangs in the balance tonight after McLaren has withdrawn from the race.