Sports

Australian Grand Prix rules out fan ban

Organisers say they will not follow Bahrain's decision in going ahead without spectators due to virus outbreak

Australian Formula One chiefs yesterday ruled out any chance of the opening grand prix of the year following the lead of Bahrain and barring spectators because of the coronavirus outbreak.

On Sunday, it was announced that the season's second race in Bahrain would go ahead without fans in a bid to prevent a spread of the deadly virus that has forced a growing number of sports events to be cancelled, postponed or played behind closed doors.

But Australian Grand Prix Corporation boss Andrew Westacott said that won't be happening in Melbourne.

"Not at all," he told Melbourne radio station SEN when asked if barring fans was being considered.

"When you look at 86,000 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) last night and the footy the week after, we've got to go around things sensibly and keep moving on through life while taking the necessary precautions."

A world-record crowd of 86,174 for a women's cricket game crammed the MCG on Sunday evening to see Australia beat India in the Twenty20 World Cup final.

Big crowds are also expected for the start of the Australian Football League season later this month, despite the number of coronavirus cases rising to 93 yesterday.

Most Formula One teams are already in Australia or en route for the start of the 71st championship season, including Ferrari and Alpha Tauri from their bases in Italy, where swathes of the country are now in lockdown in a bid to halt the spread of the virus.

STRINGENT HEALTH CHECKS

There were fears that the Australian government could bar travel from Italy, which would have prevented staff from the two teams being at the grand prix.

But it has yet to do so, with travellers from Italy still granted entry with more stringent health checks.

"The interesting thing is the Italian freight. The Alpha Tauri cars and the Ferrari cars are on their way from Melbourne (airport), so it's really good. The key personnel are on their planes," said Westacott.

He said the only Ferrari people not arriving from Italy were drivers Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc, who were heading from Switzerland and France respectively.

"All the others are on their way and we're expecting (them) in the next 12 to 24 hours."

Westacott added that ticket sales were "very strong", with more than 300,000 fans usually flocking to Albert Park.

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton, who has six world championship titles and has won 84 races, is expected to draw the most attention as the Briton begins his quest to equal Michael Schumacher's tally of a record seven drivers' titles, and to overhaul his total of 91 race wins. - AFP

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