Australian GP: Lewis Hamilton is 'very surprised' F1 continues amid coronavirus outbreak

By Andrew BensonChief F1 writer in Melbourne
Esteban Ocon
Renault driver Esteban Ocon arrived at the circuit in Melbourne on Thursday wearing a face mask

Lewis Hamilton says it is "shocking" that Formula 1 has pressed ahead with this weekend's Australian Grand Prix amid the global coronavirus pandemic.

"I am very, very surprised we are here," the world champion said in the official news conference on Thursday.

"It's great we have races but it's shocking we are sitting in this room."

Hamilton's comments came as five F1 team members were advised to go into isolation after developing symptoms that could be related to coronavirus.

The Mercedes driver expressed concerns about the numbers of fans attending the season-opening event and F1's response to the crisis in the wake of other sporting events being called off and increasing travel restrictions around the globe.

On Wednesday, the NBA basketball season was suspended after a player tested positive and President Donald Trump banned flights from 26 European countries to the United States.

"[There are] so many fans there and it seems like the rest of the world is reacting - probably a little bit late," Hamilton said.

"But we are seeing Trump shutting down the borders, the NBA has been suspended yet F1 continues to go on."

It was said on Wednesday that results of the tests on the five team members - four from Haas and one from McLaren - would be announced within 24 to 72 hours.

But Hamilton, asked whether the race should be called off if they were positive, expressed cynicism that it would be before race day on Sunday.

"It is a major decision," he said, "but I heard the result is not going to come back for five days - coincidentally."

And asked why F1 was continuing, Hamilton said: "Cash is king."

He added: "I just urge everyone to be as careful as you can be - touching doors; I hope everyone has hand sanitiser.

"I saw all the fans going on like it was a normal day, but I don't think it is. I really hope we go through the weekend and don't see any fatalities."

Nicholas Latifi, Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton, Daniel Ricciardo
Lewis Hamilton (second right) and Sebastian Vettel (second left) were talking at the official news conference before the Australian Grand Prix, alongside Williams' Nicholas Latifi (left) and Renault's Daniel Ricciardo

Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel added: "It is very difficult having a fair judgement, but I do realise a lot of sporting competitions get cancelled and it is fair to ask the question why you are here.

"We have have to trust [motorsport's governing body] FIA and for them to take all the precautions but the answer no one can give you is how much you can control what is going on."

Vettel added that it was a complex situation to which people were responding in different ways.

"You try to control the situation for yourself as much as you can," he said. "Some are more relaxed about handshakes, some not. Some laugh it off.

"I don't know how serious it is. You have to put yourself in other people's hands. We did in getting here. The flights weren't cancelled. But within that you are in your own bubble and you try to control it as much as you can. It is right to take care and take precautions - how much, there are a lot of questions that are very difficult to answer."

Vettel is one of three directors of the Grand Prix Drivers' Association, which takes a collective stance on key issues within F1.

Asked if the drivers would refuse to race if there were a significant number of coronavirus cases among F1 personnel, or if someone died, Vettel said: "My stand would be hope it doesn't get that far. If it gets that far, you'd pull the handbrake."

F1 and the FIA say they have been following the advice of local authorities as to whether events can go ahead.

Australian Grand Prix coverage details (all times GMT)
DateSessionTimeRadio coverageText commentary
Thursday, 12 MarchPreview21:00-22:00 - listen hereBBC Radio 5 Live
Friday, 13 MarchFirst practice00:55-02:35BBC Radio 5 Live Sports ExtraFrom 00:30
Second practice04:55-06:35BBC Radio 5 Live Sports ExtraFrom 04:30
Saturday, 14 MarchThird practice02:55-04:05BBC Radio 5 Live Sports ExtraFrom 02:30
Qualifying05:55-07:05BBC Radio 5 Live Sports ExtraFrom 05:00
Sunday, 15 MarchRace04:30-07:00BBC Radio 5 LiveFrom 03:30
ReviewDownload here
Chequered Flag podcast: Australian Grand Prix review - download here once the race has finished