Formula One faces testing times over coronavirus

Formula One teams were trying to focus on the second session of winter testing in Barcelona this week while casting worrying glances towards the spread of the coronavirus with the message: “We are concerned, but there’s no need to panic.”

As veteran driver Robert Kubica steered his Alfa Romeo to the day’s best time at Montmelo, talk in the paddock was of growing fears over the spread of the virus which has killed more than 2700 people and infected more than 80000 in 37 countries.

The F1 world championship, which gets under way in Melbourne on March 15, had already lost the Chinese Grand Prix from its schedule.

Ferrari, whose headquarters are at Maranello in northern Italy, one of the areas affected by Covid-19, said the team was taking all sensible precautions. “Of course it concerns us,” said Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto. “Some of the team postponed their flights in order to ensure that all concerns were addressed correctly.

“But there is no panic. It’s just a matter of making sure we get it right. We co-ordinate with Formula One and the International Automobile Federation [FIA]. The team is very careful and conscious of the situation.”

With 12 deaths and 400 people infected as of Wednesday, Italy is the European country worst hit by the outbreak.

Ferrari announced on Monday that it had temporarily shut its museums in Maranello and Modena, restricted the access of employees residing in or having visited the affected areas, and suspended visits from outside as well as non-essential business trips.

The AlphaTauri team, which is also based in Italy, in Faenza, south of the infected areas, say the cleaning of their factory has increased and employees and sub-contractors are assessed.

In coming weeks, questions are expected to be raised about air links or even closed borders.

“We don’t know if [the team members currently present in Barcelona] will be able to return. If they return, we don’t know if they will be able to travel to Australia,” said AlphaTauri’s French driver, Pierre Gasly.

Although the Chinese Grand Prix, originally scheduled for April 19 in Shanghai, has been postponed to a date to be announced, the inaugural Vietnam Grand Prix in Hanoi “will take place as planned” on April 5, said circuit chief Le Ngoc Chi.

“We are of course monitoring the situation closely and will notify customers and the media if there is a change,” he said.

But two events planned to take place in the Vietnamese capital in the weeks before the race have been postponed — a marathon on March 29 and an international badminton tournament, which is also a qualifier for the Tokyo Olympics, slated for March 24 to 29.

The FIA said it continues to “closely monitor the development of the situation”. — AFP

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