| 4°C Belfast

F1's Australian opener joins the West Cork Rally in being axed


Craig Breen

Sunday's opening round of the Formula One World Championship, the Australian Grand Prix, has been called off, joining a growing list of motorsport events being cancelled in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

They include this weekend's West Cork Rally as well as the Azores Rally, where Craig Breen and Callum Devine were scheduled to begin their European Championship campaigns later this month, and in America next week's World Endurance Championship round at Sebring, which would have involved Charlie Eastwood and Andrew Watson, has also been cancelled.

The belated decision to call a halt to the Australian GP just 12 hours before practice was scheduled to begin was triggered by the withdrawal of the McLaren team after one of its members was confirmed to have the virus.

He was one of eight people, including members of the Haas team, who were tested although the others are thought to have been cleared.

But many in the F1 paddock were unhappy that a decision had not been taken earlier to abandon the race including world champion Lewis Hamilton, who said he was "shocked" it had been due to go ahead.

The protracted decision to cancel was finally made after late night consultations between the FIA, F1, race teams, race organisers and local health services in Melbourne.

The Chinese Grand Prix had already been cancelled and the Bahrain race is to take place behind closed doors.

Meanwhile, the West Cork Rally, which would have featured the leading crews in both the Irish Tarmac and British Championships, fell victim yesterday following the new measures imposed by the Irish government.

In a statement, the organisers said: "Following the announcement that all indoor gatherings of over 100 people and all outdoor gatherings of over 500 people should not proceed, the Cork Motor Club team have made the assessment that our event must be postponed in order to protect public health."

Motorsport Ireland also cancelled all events south of the border until at least March 29.

However, this weekend's Rally Mexico, the third round of the World Championship, is scheduled to go ahead as planned.

Belfast Telegraph