“There are so many fans already here today. It seems like the rest of the world is reacting, probably a little bit late.”
Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton said yesterday it was “shocking” that the season-opening Australian Grand Prix could go ahead amid the threat of the coronavirus and suggested organisers had put financial concerns ahead of people’s health.
The six-time world champion broke ranks with other drivers who said they were comfortable with assurances received from the governing FIA, even as other sports cancel events and competitions around the globe.
“I am really very, very surprised we are here,” Briton Hamilton told reporters at the Albert Park media centre yesterday, a day before the cars roll out for the first free practice sessions at the circuit.
“It is great we have races, but for me it is shocking that we are all sitting in this room.
“There are so many fans already here today. It seems like the rest of the world is reacting, probably a little bit late.
“But already this morning we’ve seen (US president Donald) Trump shutting down the borders from Europe we’re seeing the NBA has been suspended yet Formula One continues to go on.”
Hamilton said he feared for the health of the elderly in particular, and fans attending Albert Park, where more than 300 000 flocked during last year’s race, according to organisers’ estimates.
Thousands of fans poured into Albert Park yesterday as race-week kicked off with practice and qualifying for lower-profile motor sport circuits.
The Chinese Grand Prix, which was scheduled for April, has already been postponed while the Bahrain race next Sunday will go ahead without spectators. Doubts have also grown about next month’s race in Vietnam due to its quarantine measures.
The Australian Grand Prix Corporation has declined to comment on the possibility of Sunday’s race being cancelled or postponed, or provide any public briefing to allay concerns.
“I don’t know if it’s the right thing that we are here. Probably not,” said Alfa Romeo driver Kimi Raikkonen. “But it’s not up to us, it’s not our decision. I think if it would be purely all the teams’ decision we probably wouldn’t be here.”
Meanwhile, McLaren withdrew from the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne yesterday after a team member tested positive for coronavirus, fuelling concerns about the race going ahead.
The British-based team, whose drivers are Spaniard Carlos Sainz and Briton Lando Norris, did not reveal details about the employee.
“The team member was tested and self-isolated as soon as they started to show symptoms and will now be treated by local healthcare authorities,” the former champions said in a statement.
Tests on four Haas team members who had been quarantined due to the outbreak came back negative, a spokesperson said. US-owned Haas are also British-based but have close ties to Ferrari, the Italian team whose engines they use.