Coronavirus: Australian Grand Prix called off

Albert Park (Agencies): The Australian Grand Prix has been called off, two senior Formula 1 sources have told BBC Sport.

There has been no official confirmation from F1 or governing body the FIA but the news follows a McLaren team member testing positive for coronavirus.

The situation rapidly developed throughout Thursday night in Melbourne and an announcement that the race will not take place is now expected. The decision throws into doubt the rest of the Formula 1 season.

F1 and the FIA have come in for criticism for their handling of the situation. World champion Lewis Hamilton said on Thursday at the official F1 news conference he was “very, very surprised” the sport had pressed on with plans to continue with the race while the outbreak of the virus worsened and other sports suspended or cancelled events.

An initial meeting of team bosses with F1 and FIA officials on Thursday night, after a tense day in the paddock at Albert Park, broke up with an agreement to carry on with Friday practice as normal and review the situation later that day. But the plans changed later in the evening as several insiders – including leading drivers – expressed their concerns about the idea of racing amid the risk of further cases of coronavirus in the tight-knit F1 paddock.

The decision was reviewed at later meetings and eventually, at around 0200 Friday local time (1500 GMT on Thursday), the decision was made to call the race off. In total, eight F1 workers have been assessed and tested for Covid-19.

Seven were cleared on Thursday but an eighth, from McLaren, tested positive. Australian Grand Prix organisers said in a statement a ninth person had been assessed and tested, with the result pending. This person was “not associated with any F1 team, the FIA or associated suppliers”, the statement said.

There is yet no sense of the knock-on effects of the Australian Grand Prix being called off, but the Bahrain Grand Prix, scheduled to be the second race of the season on 22 March, is now in serious doubt. A decision is also expected imminently on the Vietnam Grand Prix, scheduled for 5 April, after the government in Hanoi banned travel into the country for anyone who has been in Italy – among other locations – in the previous 14 days.

F1 chief executive Chase Carey was in Hanoi on Thursday trying to find a way around the restrictions. The Chinese Grand Prix, scheduled to be the fourth race, was postponed in February after government officials said it could not go ahead. There are now serious questions as to when – or if – the F1 season will start at all.

The next race after Vietnam is scheduled to be the Dutch Grand Prix on 5 May, the start of a run of three races in four weekends that also includes the Spanish and Monaco events.

But with the coronavirus situation developing by the day, and countries imposing tighter restrictions on travel, it is impossible to know at this stage whether any of those races can go ahead.