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McLaren withdraws from Australian GP due to coronavirus

“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.

“The AGPC will provide updates as further details become available.”

Formula 1 organisers said: “Formula 1 and the FIA have have been coordinating with all the relevant authorities on the next steps. Our priority is the safety of the fans, the teams and all personnel at the race.”

McLaren’s withdrawal will put further pressure on F1 and Australian Grand Prix bosses, who have faced questions over whether the event should be going ahead. Organisers have put a number of measures in place, including scrapping autograph sessions with the drivers.

The decision to go ahead with the race was even criticised by reigning champion Lewis Hamilton. He told reporters that he was “very, very surprised that we are here”. He added: “It’s great that we have races, but for me it’s shocking that we’re all sitting in this room. So many fans are here already and it seems like the rest of the world is reacting, probably a little bit late.”

When asked why he felt the race was continuing, Hamilton added: “Cash is king, but honestly I don’t know.”

Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel, speaking before McLaren’s announcement, suggested that the drivers could refuse to race if there were further concerns.

The Bahrain Grand Prix, the second race of this season, is due to be staged on 22 March without fans in attendance in an attempt to limit the spread of the coronavirus. It is unlikely the Australian GP will be run without fans being allowed into the circuit, because its urban park setting in Melbourne would most likely lead to fans crowding near the venue to try to watch anyway.

McLaren’s withdrawal throws further doubt over coming races. The new Vietnam Grand Prix is due to be the third race of the season on 5 April, but it seems unlikely to go ahead due to limitations on large gatherings introduced by the government there. The Chinese GP, due to follow that event in April, has already been postponed. Following that, the new Dutch Grand Prix is scheduled for 3 May, followed by the Spanish GP on 10 May.

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