Confusion engulfed the season-opening Australian Grand Prix hours before the cars were due on track before the race was eventually cancelled amid fears over the spread of the coronavirus.

“Following the confirmation that a member of the McLaren Racing Team has tested positive for Covid-19 and the team’s decision to withdraw from the Australian Grand Prix, the FIA and Formula 1 convened a meeting of the other nine team principals on Thursday evening,” a joint statement from FIA, Formula 1 and the Australian Grand Prix Corporation read.

“Those discussions concluded with a majority view of the teams that the race should not go ahead. The FIA and Formula 1, with the full support of the Australian Grand Prix Corporation (AGPC) have therefore taken the decision that all Formula 1 activity for the Australian Grand Prix is cancelled.”

On Thursday night, McLaren withdrew after one of its team members returned a positive test for Covid-19, casting a huge shadow over the viability of the weekend’s racing at Albert Park.

Despite the insistence of Paul Little, the chairman of the Australian Grand Prix Corporation, on Friday morning that racing would go ahead, fans were locked out of the venue before a final decision was made to cancel the grand prix.

“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 One 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,” the statement added.

McLaren 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. They are the first to have been confirmed to have the virus.

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.

Hospitality staff working at the Australian Grand Prix were told in an email on Friday morning to “disregard” media reports suggesting the event had been postponed, and to turn up for their rostered shift as usual.

McLaren’s withdrawal had thrown 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.

More to follow.

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