Coronavirus: FIA cancels season-opening Australian F1 Grand Prix

Thousands of fans had already arrived to watch Friday's practice session before the race was pulled

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Formula One has confirmed the season-opening Australian Grand Prix is off.

The official verdict just after 10am local time in Melbourne followed almost 12 hours of confusion sparked by McLaren's withdrawal after a staff member tested positive for 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 One convened a meeting of the other nine team principals on Thursday evening," the sport's governing body said.

"Those discussions concluded with a majority view of the teams that the race should not go ahead.

"The Fia and Formula One, with the full support of the Australian Grand Prix Corporation, have therefore taken the decision that all Formula One activity for the Australian Grand Prix is cancelled."

Sources indicated to the PA news agency in the early hours of Friday that the race would be scrapped.

But the failure by F1's American owners, Liberty Media, and the Fia to act quickly resulted in thousands of fans arriving at the Albert Park venue for practice.

PA said the decision to postpone the race was made after a two-hour crisis summit in Melbourne. quoted sources saying most of the teams were unhappy to continue and the Fia would accept the decision.

It was the latest world sporting event to be cancelled or delayed on Thursday in response to the deadly disease that has claimed more than 4,600 lives.

The McLaren team employee was among at least eight F1 personnel who went into isolation this week after showing flu-like symptoms typical of the virus.

Seven were cleared on Thursday.

Australian Grand Prix organisers said a ninth person had been assessed and tested, with the result pending.

The person was "not associated with any F1 team, the Fia or associated suppliers", the organisers said.

Tests on four Haas team members who had been quarantined came back negative, a spokesman said.

Qualifying for the season-opening race was due to start in Melbourne on Friday.

World champion Lewis Hamilton earlier on Thursday launched a scathing attack on the sport's organisers, saying he was "very surprised" that the race was going ahead as fears mount about the spread of the disease.

The Mercedes star, who is gunning to match Michael Schumacher's record seven world crowns this season, sat next to Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel and Renault's Daniel Ricciardo in the media session, but a large space separated them from the press.

"I am really very, very surprised that we're here," Hamilton said. "I don't think it's great that we have races but it really is shocking that we're all sitting in this room.

"It seems that the rest of the world is already reacting a little bit late, but you have seen this morning with Trump shutting down the border to Europe to the States, the NBA suspended, yet F1 continues to go on.

"It's a concern I think for the people here. It's quite a big circus that's come here, it's definitely concerning for me."

Asked why he felt the race was still on, Hamilton replied: "Cash is king."

There are now serious questions as to when, or if, the F1 season will start at all.

The Chinese Grand Prix has already been postponed because of coronavirus and next week's Bahrain Grand Prix is scheduled to take place behind closed doors.

The first Vietnam Grand Prix, on April 5, is also under threat after the government banned travel into the country for anyone who has been in Italy, among other locations, in the previous 14 days.