Formula One giant McLaren has had a topsy-turvy week but the team is on the road to recovery after the ongoing Covid-19 coronavirus crisis threw the sport, and the wider world, into chaos, writes Kristian Harrison.
The team, partly-owned by Bahrain’s sovereign wealth fund Mumtalakat, was the first to pull out of last weekend’s eventually-cancelled Australian Grand Prix after an employee tested positive for the virus.
A further 14 team members then entered a two-week quarantine after coming into close contact with the individual who tested positive. However, it emerged today that the team member in question “is recovering well and the symptoms have gone.”
In a move of solidarity which has won praise from race fans on social media, team racing director Andrea Stella volunteered to stay behind to support his beleaguered colleagues instead of flying back to base in Europe with the rest of the crew.
Stella said, “We had to act immediately and decided to withdraw the team from the race. There was no other option for us. In such a case, the safety of our employees is our top priority.
“I will stay here until it is safe for our guys to leave, but other members of the team were cleared to return to the paddock to pack down team equipment before travelling back home.
“On arrival in the UK, no race team member will return to the McLaren Technology Centre (the team’s headquarters in Woking) for a period of 14 days, as a precautionary measure.”
In a rapidly evolving series of events, McLaren announced last Thursday evening that one of its crew had tested positive for COVID-19, prompting the team to withdraw from the Albert Park curtain-raiser.
Subsequent talks between the teams and F1’s other stakeholders led to the cancellation of the race on Friday morning.
McLaren Racing chief executive officer Zak Brown said the decision to withdraw from the race was ‘as a racer the hardest decision I’ve had to take, but as CEO it was the easiest’.
Brown said McLaren had spent time ‘scenario-planning’ before travelling to the season-opening Grand Prix in order to know what their options were in the event of various outcomes.
He explained, “Team principal Andreas Seidl and I had already agreed that if we had a positive test in the garage, there was only one option.
“We also appreciate our fellow teams in the paddock, who offered immediate help on Friday to dismantle the garage and pack the freight, which was obviously a challenge for us missing 14 of our core guys. This is the spirit of F1 and racing we all embrace.
“We are now focused on the dialogue with F1, the FIA and the other teams on working through the 2020 calendar and managing the team over the next few months.
“It is early days and this is an evolving situation but we are planning ahead and will stay flexible.”
In 2007, Mumtalakat acquired a significant share of the legendary team, founded in 1963 by Grand Prix winner Bruce McLaren, with the aim of expanding the successful team into a technology provider and prestigious supercar manufacturer.
It now plays a pivotal and strategic role on the McLaren board, owning 62.55 per cent of McLaren Group Limited.
The team’s fortunes have suffered in recent years, but they are showing positive results on the track as well as off it after finishing fourth in the Constructor’s championship last season aided by the talents of rookies Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz Jr.
In another heart-warming story emanating from the paddock, it has been reported that one McLaren team member went shopping in Melbourne and purchased games consoles and games for their isolated colleagues to alleviate the boredom that a fortnight of isolation inevitably brings.