F1 says team or driver COVID-19 pullouts won’t stop races

Jon Noble

F1 has announced its plan for the 2020 season to get underway at the Austrian Grand Prix on July 5, with an eight-event schedule for the European phase of the season having been revealed.

The sport’s chiefs have put together a guideline dossier of over 80 pages to ensure that travelling personnel remain safe from the risks of coronavirus when the 2020 season begins. Learning lessons from the last-minute cancellation of the Australian Grand Prix, after a McLaren team member tested positive, F1 has worked extra hard to ensure that every eventuality is covered.

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Speaking to the official F1 website, CEO Chase Carey was clear that procedures were now in place so even if a driver got ill, or a team pulled out like McLaren did in Australia, that would not force the event to be stopped.

“An individual having been found with a positive infection will not lead to a cancellation of a race,” he said. “We encourage teams to have procedures in place so if an individual has to be put in quarantine, we have the ability to quarantine them at a hotel and to replace that individual.

“Some things we’d have to talk through and work through. The array of ‘what ifs’ are too wide to play out every one of them, but a team not being able to race wouldn’t cancel the race. I don’t think I could sit here and lay out the consequences. But we will have a procedure in place that finding infection will not lead to a cancellation. If a driver has an infection, [teams have] reserve drivers available.

“We wouldn’t be going forward if we were not highly confident we have necessary procedures and expertise and capabilities to provide a safe environment and manage whatever issues arrive.”

Carey also revealed the level of details that F1 and motor racing’s governing body, the FIA, had gone to for racing to resume.

“Certainly the FIA deserves an enormous amount of credit in this process,” he said. “In many ways they’ve led in this process in terms of health and safety issues. We have engaged with a range of outside experts. 

“There is a rigorous set of guidelines, probably at this point it’s 80-90 pages, which will include everything from how do you travel there, what are the processes for being in hotels there to what are the processes that exist at the track, for meals, going to the restroom, downtime between tracks and testing processes. 

“We will test before you go there, then there will be testing every two days. There are processes if we find an infection. We recognise there is the possibility so we’re prepared to appropriately deal with it, if we find a positive infection. We’re working on putting in place tracking capabilities, we have two different tracking options.”

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F1 managing director of motorsport Ross Brawn has already talked about the sport operating in a ‘biosphere’ at races to ensure it is isolated from the local community. Carey was clear that everything was being done to minimise the risk of the virus spreading.

“In many ways, it will be like living in a bubble from when you start travelling on charter planes,” he said. “There will be controlled transportation to hotels, transportation back and forth to the track from hotels. And probably within it, sub-bubbles of people who operate different functions and it is set up to manage the processes, make sure we have the right protective equipment and social distancing.

“Clearly, we recognise our sport is one which at times, we can’t have two metres between every individual on a team. When a car pulls into a pit and has to change four tyres, there won’t be two metres between every individual. We need to make sure we have procedures to manage all those risks as soon as possible.”