Formula 1 finds itself on the brink of a new crisis – one not of its own doing this time – that threatens to derail the new season before it’s even begun.
The Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak that began at the end of 2019 in Wuhan, China has – at the time of writing – infected 93,000 people globally resulting in over 3000 deaths.
The Chinese government took early steps to contain the virus by restricting the movement of its people and the cancellation of mass gatherings, up until the end of March – a measure they hoped would contain its spread.
This included the Chinese Grand Prix, scheduled for the 19th April.
However, Coronavirus quickly spread beyond China’s borders, and as many as 80 countries have now reported cases of the virus, prompting many more to impose travel restrictions and quarantine for people arriving from areas particularly affected by the outbreak.
Among countries to have introduced stricter border controls are Australia, Vietnam and Bahrain – hosts of the three opening Grands Prix of 2020, and one the countries where the spread is most prevalent is Italy; home of Ferrari, Alpha Tauri and Pirelli.
The virus shows no signs of containment yet and so it’s likely worse is to come before it gets better, and so what implication might that have for the rest of the Formula 1 season?
Well, Australia have placed travel restrictions on people arriving from high risk areas, including China and Italy and are advising self-isolation.
Bahrain and Vietnam have gone a step further by imposing a 14-day quarantine to those arriving from high risk areas (again, including Italy) which would throw doubt on whether Ferrari et al will be able to attend those GPs.
Ross Brawn, Managing Director of F1 has said that should any team be denied entry to a country precluding them from participating in a Grand Prix, then that race will not go ahead, which puts significant pressure on border forces to circumvent measures it feels responsible to prevent Coronavirus becoming a pandemic resulting in thousands more deaths, which smacks of irresponsibility.
Not to mention the risk it places on the F1 personnel who face potentially greater exposure to the virus.
Claire Williams, Williams Deputy Team Principal, speaking yesterday at a sponsor event said:
“We want to go racing at the end of the day, but we’ve got to make sure that we keep our people safe in doing that. We will just continue to take the guidance as and when it comes through.”
As a result of the cancellation of the Chinese Grand Prix, there’s now a gap of almost a month between the Vietnam Grand Prix scheduled for April 5th and the Dutch Grand Prix on the 3rd of May. And should governments/organisers decide a Grand Prix and the mobilising and gathering of people that involves is too big a risk, then we’re facing the real prospect of a skeleton championship, kicking off after months of inactivity with huge gaps between races.
It would seem that Formula 1 has a choice between profit and safeguarding the wellbeing of the global population.
It will be interesting to see which they choose.