Formula 1 officially cancels Australian Grand Prix just before practices were set to start

·5 min read
Practice is set to begin Friday morning in Australia for the Australian Grand Prix. (Photo credit should read Chris Putnam/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
Practice is set to begin Friday morning in Australia for the Australian Grand Prix. (Photo credit should read Chris Putnam/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

The Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix is no longer going to happen.

The FIA, Formula 1’s governing body, announced just hours before practice for the race was set to begin that the race had been canceled.

F1 said a majority of its teams didn’t want to race after McLaren pulled out of the race because a team member tested positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus.

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“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 are cancelled,” the statement said.

“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.”

In addition to canceling Australia, F1 announced Friday morning in the United States that it had postponed the Bahrain Grand Prix and the Vietnam Grand Prix. The races in Bahrain (March 22) and Vietnam (April 5) were the next two races on the F1 calendar following Australia.

McLaren announced Thursday that it was making the decision to withdraw from the race as a precautionary measure for everyone involved.

“McLaren Racing has confirmed this evening in Melbourne that it has withdrawn from the 2020 Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix following the positive test of a team member for the coronavirus,” the team’s statement said.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. The team is cooperating with the relevant local authorities to assist their investigations and analysis.

“Zak Brown, CEO of McLaren Racing and Andreas Seidl, Team Principal of McLaren F1, informed Formula 1 and the FIA of the decision this evening. 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 fields cars for Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz in Formula 1.

When asked Thursday why he thought that organizers were still planning to hold the race, reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton said that “cash is king.”

"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," Hamilton said at his pre-race press conference.

"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."

Hamilton’s Mercedes team issued a statement about the cancellation of the race. Mercedes said that it had written the FIA a letter and requested that the race be called off.

“We share the disappointment of the sport’s fans that this race cannot go ahead as planned,” the statement said. “However, the physical and mental health and wellbeing of our team members and of the wider F1 community are our absolute priority.”

“In light of the force majeure events we are experiencing with regards to the coronavirus pandemic, we no longer feel the safety of our employees can be guaranteed if we continue to take part in the event.”

“We empathize strongly with the worsening situation in Europe, most especially in Italy, and furthermore we do not feel it would be right to participate in an event where fellow competitors such as McLaren are unable to do so through circumstances beyond their control.”

McLaren is also fielding a full-time team in the IndyCar Series in 2020. The season-opening IndyCar Grand Prix in St. Petersburg is set to happen on Sunday and, as of yet, no adjustments had been made to the race’s schedule other than banning fans from the event. NASCAR’s three national series races at Atlanta are also scheduled to proceed starting Friday without fans in attendance.

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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.

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