Dubai: McLaren has pulled out of the season-opening Australian Grand Prix after one of its team members had tested positive for coronavirus on Thursday.
McLaren released a statement on Thursday announcing that they, along with drivers Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris, would not be participating in the first race of the 22-round calendar at Albert Park this weekend.
Organisers had insisted that all safety measures had been in place for this weekend’s race but the six-time reigning world F1 champion Lewis Hamilton had raised concerns during the customary pre-races conference of top drivers earlier on Thursday.
“I am very, very surprised we are here,” the world champion had said during the interaction with media.
“It’s great we have races, but it’s shocking we are sitting in this room,” he had said after as many as five F1 team members had been advised to go into isolation after developing symptoms that could be related to coronavirus.
Later in the day, McLaren said that the infected team member had been kept in self-isolation in Australia itself.
Hamilton, who won his first World Drivers’ Championship with McLaren way back in 2008 before moving to Mercedes in 2013, later sent out a short tweet that read: “The wait is over. We’re back in Melbourne for the first race of the season.”
The decision to pull out was jointly conveyed to Formula One and the FIA by Zak Brown, CEO of McLaren Racing and Andreas Seidl, Team Principal of McLaren F1. On its part, McLaren reiterated that its choice to withdraw from the race was “based on a duty of care” to the sport and to its stake-holders.
The actual drama in Melbourne started unfolding following the arrival of the main crew and team members on Wednesday. Mandatory tests carried out found that five team members – four from Haas and one from McLaren – showed symptoms of the coronavirus. The FIA later announced that the results of the tests on the members would be announced within 24 to 72 hours.
On Thursday, things panned out rather swiftly with Hamilton expressing concerns about the number of fans attending the season-opener while also being critical of motorsport’s response to the crisis in the wake of other sporting events being called off due to the increasing travel restrictions around the world.
Asked whether the race should be cancelled altogether, Hamilton was quoted saying: “It is a major decision, but I heard that the result is not going to come back for five days – coincidentally [that’s after the race is done on Sunday].”
Pressed further on why F1 was continuing with the race, the 35-year-old Hamilton simply shrugged: “Cash is king.”
Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel – one of three directors of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association which takes a collective stance on key issues within the sport – was more trustful of governing body FIA. “We have to trust the FIA and for them to take all the precautions. But the answer no one can give you is how much you can control what is going on,” Vettel expressed.
“It is very difficult having a fair judgement, but I do realise a lot of sporting competitions get cancelled and it is fair to ask the question why you are here,” the four-time world champion from Germany, added.
The second race on the 2020 calendar is scheduled at the Sakhir track in Bahrain from March 20-22, while the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will once again bring down the curtains on the season with the 22nd and final race from November 27-29.