MELBOURNE: The Formula One season has been thrown into doubt with the cancellation of the Australian Grand Prix due to the coronavirus on Friday, with chief executive Chase Carey saying it was “challenging” to predict when the next race might take place.
The season-opener was scrapped after a McLaren team member tested positive before the first practice session was scheduled to get underway at Albert Park.
The fourth round of the championship in Shanghai in April has already been postponed, while organisers in Bahrain had hoped to stage the race without spectators on March 22.
The Bahrain race and the following stop in Vietnam next month now look under threat with personnel stuck in quarantine and global travel restrictions likely to prove a logistical nightmare for teams.
Carey said the rapidly changing situation made it difficult to say when the season might get underway.
“It is a pretty difficult situation to predict. Everybody uses the word ‘fluid’ and it is a fluid situation,” Carey told a media conference at Melbourne’s Albert Park circuit.
“The situation today is different than it was two days ago and it was different than four days ago. Trying to look out and make those sorts of predictions, when it is changing this quick, it is challenging.”
McLaren said in a statement that 14 of its crew, in addition to the one confirmed case, were placed in quarantine at their local hotel for 14 days in accordance with health directives.
Other members had been cleared to return to the Albert Park paddock and help pack up, the team said.
Earlier on Friday, fans had been flocking to the lakeside circuit and a local broadcaster reported that the Australian Grand Prix Corporation said the race would go ahead.
Hundreds of fans milled around closed entry gates, unaware that Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews had announced none would be permitted to enter even if the race went ahead.
Organisers decided to cancel the race just hours before cars were set to rollout for the practice session.
Carey said it had been a joint decision with local organisers and teams after updated advice from the local health authorities, which followed confirmation of the McLaren positive test.
There were already big question marks over the race, with a slew of medical professionals and media pundits ramping up pressure on organisers to call it off for safety reasons.
Mercedes had also requested Formula One scrap it, saying they had already started to pack up and leave the circuit.
On Thursday, the team’s six-times world champion Lewis Hamilton said it was “shocking” that organisers wanted to push ahead with the race.
The coronavirus pandemic has shredded the global sporting calendar, with men’s tennis shut down for six weeks, top European soccer leagues placed on hold, NHL suspended and Major League Baseball’s opening day postponed. — AFP