Melbourne Grand Prix cancelled
F1 chiefs have officially declared Sunday's Australian Grand Prix is cancelled.
The announcement came at 10.08am - an hour after the Victorian Government said fans would not be allowed to attend if it went ahead.
Formula One's governing body, the FIA, had maintained a confusing silence on Friday morning despite reports it would cede to the demands of teams who did not want to go ahead with the race in Melbourne.
Several teams and drivers voiced their concerns at a crisis meeting on Thursday night after McLaren withdrew from the season opener after a team member tested positive for coronavirus.
Champion team Mercedes doubled down on Friday, sending a letter to the FIA requesting the race be cancelled. "This race cannot go ahead as planned," the letter read. "Our team will therefore begin pack-up preparations at the circuit this morning."
Confusion still reigned at Albert Park on Friday morning as a lack of communication left fans in the dark.
Australian Grand Prix chairman Paul Little was approached by several reporters on his way into the track - and appeared to have different messages each time he responded.
Little told Nine the grand prix would go ahead as planned over the next three days before telling Seven immediately
afterwards "we'll have to wait and see".
An FIA spokseman appeared to indicate the communication failure was caused by legalistic buck-passing.
"For us to cancel it on our own would require less than 12 cars to be available. But other than that, or from the local authorities, the FIA cannot cancel because there are too many commercial agreements that in cancelling the liability would come back to us," a spokesman said.
WHAT SPARKED THE CHAOS
It came after McLaren confirmed in a statement released on Thursday night the team would not race in Melbourne.
The team were the best of the rest in the 2019 season, finishing fourth in the constructors championship behind Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull.
But after a mechanic contracted the coronavirus, McLaren announced they would be withdrawing from the season-opening event.
"McLaren Racing has confirmed this evening in Melbourne that it has withdrawn from the 2020 Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix, following the positive test of a team member for the coronavirus.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 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."
The McLaren team member and four Haas team members were placed in self-isolation after being tested. The Haas tests came back negative.
McLaren Racing withdraws from the 2020 Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix. pic.twitter.com/BZvHVKQoev— McLaren (@McLarenF1) March 12, 2020
'BEYOND BELIEF': FURY AT F1 FARCE
The F1 and FIA released a statement after the news came through. "Formula 1 and the FIA have have been coordinating with all the relevant authorities on the next steps. Our priority is the safety of the fans, the teams and all personnel at the race," it read.
But the governing body has also been copping heavy criticism with fans demanding the event be cancelled.
The statement didn't go down too well, with some people working in F1 left furious.
What astonishes me is that there has been no advice issued to those of us working in F1 about what we should do now. Should those of us who have had any contact with McLaren personnel self-isolate? As it stands, nothing. Priority surely should be to minimise the spread?— Edd Straw (@eddstrawF1) March 12, 2020
This is all F1 and FIA have to say.— Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1) March 12, 2020
Shambolic. Absolutely shambolic. Zero guidance. Zero actual information. https://t.co/uYlGV3PEqU
This is one of the most laughably shit and meaningless statements I've ever seen. https://t.co/sbqMnBosYA— Nate Saunders (@natesaundersF1) March 12, 2020
I’m an F1 and FIA apologist to rival any, but the lack of a response - and by association what appears to be a complete lack of preparation for this very situation - is beyond belief. Other team members have been told nothing so far #F1— Chris Medland (@ChrisMedlandF1) March 12, 2020
Earlier, F1 drivers took aim at FIA for running the event despite the coronavirus fears.
McLaren driver Carlos Sainz told Reuters that the drivers were confused as to whether they would be safe to be out and about in Melbourne.
"We are obviously concerned with the situation but we are drivers and we don't really understand what is exactly going on worldwide, if it's safe to do it in Australia or Vietnam or whatever," he said.
"We are not miracle people, we are not governments …. and unfortunately we need to rely a bit on what others tell us.
"Everyone knows how quickly this thing is developing. Only time will tell if this is the right or the wrong thing to do.
"I am concerned, I think like everyone else in the paddock. But at the same time, at the moment, in my personal situation, I am in a comfortable situation."
Defending world champion Lewis Hamilton said "cash is king" when asked why he believed the round was continuing.
"I am very, very surprised we are here," he said according to Motorsport.com. "I think it's great that we can have races, but for me it's shocking that we're all sitting in this room.
"I think it's great that we have races, but for me it's shocking that we're all sitting in this room."
HOW THE DRIVERS ARE DEALING
Australia has reported 150 cases of coronavirus so far, including among fans who attended the women's T20 Cricket World Cup final and a Super Rugby match, both in Melbourne last week.
European countries that are home to many of the F1 teams and journalists at the grand prix have had far more cases.
Despite concerns, fans flocked to Albert Park on Thursday for a Supercars qualifying session.
"I'm not worried, I'm washing my hands and that's the best thing to do," said spectator Robert Clarke as he used a hand-sanitiser station.
The first F1 practice sessions are due to start on Friday.
In an attempt to limit interaction between drivers and fans, autograph sessions have been replaced by question and answer interviews, with selfies banned.
Media events have also been hit with Renault's Ricciardo and Esteban Ocon "excused" from a press conference Wednesday, and an exclusion zone was enforced around Max Verstappen and Alex Albon at a Red Bull function.
Ocon was spotted wearing a mask in the paddock on Thursday, while teams scrapped all-in TV interviews, where media are tightly packed around the drivers, for the duration of the weekend.
The coronavirus has already hurt the sport with April's Chinese Grand Prix postponed, while the second race of the year in Bahrain will be held without spectators.
The Australian Grand Prix Corporation said it was working closely with health authorities to take additional precautions at Albert Park, including having hand sanitisers at public areas and corporate facilities.
Cleaning and disinfection programmes have been increased and protocols implemented to respond to any suspected COVID-19 cases.
Over the weekend, the FIA said it was establishing a "crisis cell" to meet every two days to monitor the global threat posed by the virus.