McLaren has withdrawn from the Australian Grand Prix after one of its team members tested positive for the coronavirus putting the opening race of the season into doubt. The team issued a statement on Thursday evening in Melbourne stating that the decision was made with the intent of insuring the safety of everyone involved, including fans and the entire F1 paddock.
The team member was one of five F1 personnel who were tested for coronavirus on Wednesday. They are the first to have been confirmed to have the virus. The statement read: “McLaren Racing has confirmed this evening in Melbourne that it has withdrawn from the 2020 Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix, following the positive test of a team member for the coronavirus.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.”
Four members of the Haas team were also tested for the coronavirus having shown symptoms but all returned with negative results. Three other personnel from the F1 paddock, whose affiliation is unknown, also returned negative results.
In response, a statement from F1 said: “Following the outcome of the test on a member the McLaren team, F1 and FIA have been in close contact with them on their decision and have been coordinating with all relevant authorities on next steps. Our priority is the safety of the fans, teams and all personnel at the race.”
The Australian Grand Prix Corporation (AGPC) CEO, Andrew Westacott 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.”
Before the test results had returned the deputy chief health officer of Victoria, Annaliese van Diemen had stated if any were to return positive results, their close contacts would be placed into “immediate quarantine”. This would have a huge impact on the ability of any team to function.
She added that if the tests were positive, it would be a matter for the chief health officer and the health minister to decide if the event could go ahead.
The chief health officer, Dr Brett Sutton told Melbourne radio station 3AW, “If [the tests] turn up positive, we need to consider what it means for their close contacts and if they have a number of close contacts across a number of crews, then those individuals need to be quarantined,” Sutton told Melbourne radio station 3AW. “If that effectively shuts down the race, then so be it. We’ll make that call.”
Even if the event went ahead, McLaren’s withdrawal would throw the status of the Australian Grand Prix as a world championship race into doubt. Ross Brawn, F1’s sporting director, has previously suggested that if a team could not compete because of the coronavirus, the meeting would not be considered part of the championship.
“If a team is prevented from entering a country we can’t have a race. Not a Formula One world championship race, anyway, because that would be unfair,” he said. “Obviously if a team makes its own choice not to go to a race, that’s their decision. But where a team is prevented from going to a race because of a decision of the country then it’s difficult to have a fair competition.”