Lewis Hamilton says ‘cash is king’ as he criticises decision to start F1 season

Lewis Hamilton has attacked Formula One’s bosses by condemning their decision to stage the season-opening race in Australia.

On a day where at least two further members of the sport’s travelling circus were placed in quarantine after showing symptoms associated with the coronavirus, taking the overall tally to six, Sebastian Vettel also suggested that the drivers could yet boycott Sunday’s race here in Melbourne.

A number of sporting fixtures across the globe have been cancelled or postponed following the outbreak of the disease which has claimed more than 4,600 lives. On Wednesday, the NBA announced it has suspended its season with immediate effect.

More than 300,000 fans are expected through the gates of the Albert Park venue for a race now overshadowed by damaging claims from the sport’s six-time world champion that the traditional curtain raiser should have been abandoned.

“I am really very, very surprised that we are here,” said an animated Hamilton. “For me, it is shocking that we are sitting in this room.

“It seems like the rest of the world is reacting, probably a little bit late, but we have seen [US president] Donald Trump shut down the borders from Europe to the US, the NBA has been suspended, yet Formula One continues to go on.”

Asked why he thought the sport’s chiefs and its governing body, the FIA, have pushed ahead with the first race, Hamilton, 35, said: “Cash is king. I don’t feel like I should shy away from my opinion.

“The fact is we are here and I just urge everyone to be as careful as you can be in terms of touching doors and surfaces. For the fans, I hope they take precautions, too.

“I was walking through the paddock and saw everything going ahead as normal as if it is a normal day, but I really don’t think it is. I saw Sir Jackie Stewart this morning looking fit, healthy and well in the lift, and other elderly people, too. I hope the fans stay safe and we don’t see any fatalities or anything come out in the future.”

American outfit Haas have confirmed an additional two staff members have been tested for the coronavirus, taking their tally to four. A member of McLaren’s team was tested on Wednesday. His room-mate is now in isolation as precaution, but is not showing any symptoms related to the virus.

On Thursday night, there were unconfirmed reports that other personnel within the paddock have fallen unwell, but they have been instructed by their teams to stay away from the paddock, rather than follow the official protocol of being tested.

McLaren and Haas are now awaiting the outcome of the results, and have been told it could take up to 72 hours, which would take them through to Saturday lunchtime. It is understood both teams are pushing for the results so they can determine their next steps.

Four-time world champion Vettel, a director for the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association, did not shut down suggestions that the grid might refuse to race if it is confirmed a team member is infected.

Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel, right, also had plenty to say
Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel, right, also had plenty to say

“If it was to go that far, for sure you pull the handbrake [on the race],” said Vettel, 32.

“We are a group of 20 guys and we got together over the years in various circumstances and I think we share common opinion on big decisions and that would be a very, very big decision.

“We would be mature enough to look after ourselves and pull the handbrake in that case.”