Formula 1’s Australian Grand Prix has been called off less than two hours before the start of Friday practice after overnight meetings and a morning dispute over the race’s fate.
McLaren announced its withdrawal from the grand prix on Thursday evening, after one of its team members had tested positive for coronavirus.
A late-night meeting between teams ended with the majority were not in favour of continuing with the race weekend.
However, no decision was taken by the FIA or F1, and on Friday morning the Australian Grand Prix Corporation indicated it would persevere with the event.
That led to most teams arriving at the track as curfew ended, with some willing to continue per the schedule until informed otherwise.
Meanwhile, the Victorian government indicated that advice had been given to the promoter to decide between a race with no fans or no race at all.
After confusion – including fans arriving but being denied entry to the circuit – it was finally announced that “the FIA and Formula 1, with the full support of the Australian Grand Prix Corporation (AGPC) have taken the decision that all Formula 1 activity for the Australian Grand Prix is cancelled”.
The statement continued: “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 1 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.”
There had already been reports that Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen had left Melbourne by Friday morning.
Immediately prior to the official announcement, word champion team Mercedes released its own statement revealing it had sent a letter to the FIA and F1 requesting the cancellation of the race.
It had already committed to starting pack-up preparations this morning.
“The physical and mental health and wellbeing of our team members and of the wider F1 community are our absolute priority,” said Mercedes.
“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 empathise 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.”