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Australian GP cancelled after positive coronavirus test
FORMULA ONE: The Formula One Australian Grand Prix has been cancelled after a McLaren employee tested positive for COVID-19 and triggered the team to withdraw from the race. The member of staff self-isolated on Wednesday (Mar 11) after reporting coronavirus symptoms, and the team announced late last night (Mar 12) that tests had confirmed they are infected with the virus. Formula One subsequently announced after an excruciating 12-hour delay that the Melbourne race would be cancelled, with confirmation coming from the governing body, the FIA, after 10am today (Mar 13) local time. “The FIA and Formula One convened a meeting of the other nine team principals on Thursday evening,” a joint statement of the FIA and the Australian Grand Prix Corporation read. “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 (AGPC) have therefore taken the decision that all Formula One activity for the Australian Grand Prix is cancelled. “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 One family and the wider community, as well as the fairness of the competition, take priority.” The Australian Grand Prix corporation released a further statement highlighting updated governmental advice banning mass gatherings in the state of Victoria made this morning. “At 9am today the Australian Grand Prix Corporation was advised by Formula One of their intention to cancel all Formula One activity at the Formula One Australian Grand Prix,” it read. “In light of this decision and updated advice this morning from the chief health officer of the Victorian government’s Department of Human and Health Services, the Australian Grand Prix Corporation confirms the Formula One Australian Grand Prix is cancelled immediately.” Formula One has been dealing with several suspected cases of the COVID-19 virus since Wednesday afternoon, with nine people self-isolated and referred for further tests, at least five of whom were members of a team, including four from Haas and one from McLaren. The Australian Grand Prix Corporation confirmed eight results had been returned by Thursday night, including the positive test that triggered McLaren’s withdrawal, with one further case “not associated with any Formula One team, the FIA or associated suppliers” still pending. The ninth suspected case is reportedly a photographer. The Victorian chief health officer had said yesterday morning that he expected a positive test from any individual team member would result in several other personnel requiring quarantine and testing to prevent the further spread of the highly contagious virus. The Bahrain Grand Prix, scheduled for next weekend, 22 March, must also be considered in doubt considering the island kingdom’s already stringent entry requirements to avoid importing new cases of the virus, notwithstanding Formula One’s efforts to work with authorities to ensure the running of the event. The inaugural Vietnam Grand Prix, set for 5 April, is also tentative, with Chase Carey having stopped in host city Hanoi this week to sure up support for the race to continue despite the unfolding pandemic. Reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton said yesterday, before the McLaren announcement, that he was “shocked” the race appeared to be going ahead as planned. “I am really very, very surprised that we’re here,” he said. “It’s shocking that we’re all sitting in this room.” “It seems like the rest of the world is reacting, probably a little bit late, but … Formula One continues to go on.” Asked why he thought the race was continuing apace, Hamilton was blunt: “Cash is king”. (See story here).

Breezing through Brazil
  The 2019 Brazilian Grand Prix was Red Bull Racing and Max Verstappen’s most complete weekend of the season, but their exploits were overshadowed by the drama that engulfed the field behind him. While Verstappen spent most of the race serenely leading the pack, the configuration of the podium changed five times in the last 20 laps and even once more after the chequered flag. There was carnage aplenty for podium hopefuls. Valtteri Bottas’ engine went up in smoke on lap 52. The Ferrari drivers crashed into other on lap 65 and retired. And Lewis Hamilton punted Alex Albon off the road on the penultimate lap, sending the Thai tumbling to 14th and himself to seventh with a penalty. But through the debris rocketed Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly and McLaren’s Carlos Sainz to complete an unlikely podium finish. Gasly’s performance was every bit as assured as Verstappen’s. Fastest of the midfielders in qualifying, he comfortably held the best-of-the-rest position throughout the race, ensuring he could capitalise on the chaos that unfolded ahead of him. His best-ever result culminated in a side-by-side final-lap drag with Hamilton to the chequered flag to beat the world champion by just 0.062 seconds before the Briton’s post-race penalty. It was an emphatic demonstration of the Frenchman’s talent after his star fizzled during 12 lacklustre races with Red Bull Racing. He was demoted to Toro Rosso in August for his struggles, where this week it was confirmed he’ll remain for 2020, but with his Sao Paulo performance he dared the sport to remember his name. “It’s just the best day of my life,” an overjoyed Gasly said. “I didn’t think this would happen, coming back with Toro Rosso during the second part of the season. I just kept working on myself, tried to push the team as much as I could, telling them we need to make the best out of all the opportunities… and today it just came to us.” Whereas Gasly’s race was controlled, Sainz’s was a spectacle, recovering 17 places to the podium. The Spaniard was forced to start from 20th place after engine problems in qualifying, but the McLaren driver picked up seven places in eight laps with some gutsy, no-holds-barred overtaking, and at the first pit stop window he was ninth. But whereas his rivals subsequently made second stops for new rubber, Sainz expertly managed his ageing medium tyres for an unmatched 42 laps. He rose to eighth at the first safety car, and fourth place came to him as the frontrunners tripped over themselves, with Hamilton’s penalty promoting him to third. It’s poignant to consider both Sainz and race-winner Verstappen were Toro Rosso rookies in 2015. While the Spaniard perhaps lacked the ultimate speed of the Dutchman, he was in other respects his equal – but a paucity of opportunity in the Red Bull programme sent him packing first to Renault and then McLaren. At Woking he’s made himself a popular fixture as the famous English team rebuilds from its unsuccessful Honda years, and claiming the team’s first podium since 2014 ensures him a legacy in that project. “To get it coming from last is very, very special,” Sainz told Sky Sports. “I cannot thank enough the team and everyone involved in this because so far this year has been a dream come true and last but not least we got the podium.” It was a fitting way for Formula One to open its two season-ending championship dead rubbers and a timely reminder that even in times of domination the sport boasts talent to turn any race into a nailbiting thriller.