At least three members of Formula One’s travelling circus are in quarantine after being tested for coronavirus in the build-up to the Australian Grand Prix.
Both McLaren and American team Haas confirmed that staff have been placed in self-isolation after displaying symptoms associated with the virus which has claimed more than 4,000 lives.
There are rumours that personnel from other teams have also been tested.
The McLaren staff member reported feeling unwell at Melbourne’s Albert Park circuit on Wednesday morning. They were taken to the on-track medical centre to be tested for Covid-19 and were told to return to their hotel room in downtown Melbourne.
A McLaren spokesperson said: “We can confirm that one team member has self-isolated in the hotel as a precaution, in line with our policy, after showing symptoms similar to coronavirus.
“We are awaiting test results and currently do not have a definitive time-frame for these. The team is operating as per our normal schedule.”
It is understood that McLaren, Britain’s most successful Formula One team, will know whether the crew member has contracted the virus before the track action begins here on Friday.
A Haas spokesperson said: “Two members of the team have been quarantined and remain in their hotel room. They displayed symptoms of a cold.”
The news comes as the sport’s bosses face mounting criticism for ploughing ahead with the opening race of the new season, despite sporting events being postponed across the world following the outbreak of the virus.
Drivers are under instruction not to take selfies with fans, a two-metre exclusion zone will be in place when they conduct their media duties here on Thursday, while autograph sessions have also been scrapped.
Staff from the Italian-based Ferrari, Red Bull’s junior team AlphaTauri, and tyre supplier Pirelli, had their temperatures checked upon arriving in Melbourne. The Australian government has now placed a travel ban on people arriving here from Italy.
Next week’s race in Bahrain will take place behind closed doors owing to fears about the coronavirus. The Chinese Grand Prix, which had been due to take place on April 19, has been postponed, while there is a growing feeling that the inaugural Vietnamese Grand Prix, set for April 5, could now also be affected.
Six-time world champion Lewis Hamilton, who wore a protective mask during his flight from London to Melbourne, via the Middle East, will appear in front of the media at Albert Park on Thursday.
Hamilton’s Mercedes boss Toto Wolff, meanwhile, is set to meet with chiefs of the six other teams angered by the FIA’s confidential agreement with Ferrari over an investigation into an engine they raced with last season.
The teams, which also include Red Bull, McLaren and Williams, will discuss their next steps after they were left dissatisfied with the FIA’s response.
They want it to be made clear whether Ferrari, who deny any wrongdoing, bent the rules. Legal action against the governing body remains an avenue they could explore.