Just two hours before the start of FP1, the FIA, F1 and the AUSGPC announced the cancellation of the event following McLaren’s withdrawal after a team member tested positive for Coronavirus.
It took an agonizing wait and two different meetings to decide the destiny of the inaugural race of the 2020 season, which is inevitably cursed by the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic. All options were taken into account, including the possibility of holding the race behind closed doors. Fans had been locked out of the Albert Park racetrack until the official cancellation announcement.
Six F1 teams had showed up before curfew earlier this morning. Ferrari, McLaren, Mercedes and Renault were absent, which would have virtually pictured 12 cars available to race. Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen were already on their way back home, with Max Verstappen also following the lead of the two F1 veterans.
More details emerged on the meeting that took place overnight between the F1 teams, as the result came out as 5-5, but the issue appears to be more complicated than it seems. A FIA spokesperson reportedly affirmed that less than 12 cars would allow them to cancel the race on their own, but the Federation itself cannot cancel ‘because there are too many commercial agreements that in cancelling the liability would come back to us’.
F1 CEO Chase Carey flew over from Vietnam, whose race is set to be postponed, and took part in the decisive meeting around 8.30 am Melbourne time.
Here is the full statement regarding the final decision on the 2020 Australian GP.
"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. 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".
"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 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".
It also emerged that Mercedes sent a request to F1 and the FIA to cancel the event following McLaren's withdrawal on Thursday. A statement from Ferrari also proves that the Maranello-based squad supports the decision of calling off the race.
However, further updates are urgently demanded as for Bahrain and Vietnam. Not to mention that the situation has been protracted for 12 hours with conflicting information spawning from source to source, which eventually evolved into a desperate call in a dazed atmosphere.