F1 chiefs on edge as coronavirus hangs over races in Asia, Middle East
The bulk of team members with Italian F1 squads Ferrari, Alpha Tauri and the tyre supplier Pirelli are due to land in Melbourne on Sunday and Monday, when they will be subjected to stringent health tests on arrival before being given the go-ahead to work with their teams at Albert Park next week.
Australian Grand Prix bosses remain confident that the event will not be impacted by the global coronavirus outbreak, which is wreaking havoc with major international sporting events around the world.
However, motorsport's governing body, the FIA, has set up a crisis management group to monitor the implications of the virus internationally, with members due to meet every two days to monitor developments, the BBC reported.
Vietnam is due hold its grand prix on April 5. It has imposed a 14-day quarantine period on any travellers from Italy who enter the country, which would badly hit the Italian-based teams.
F1 chief Ross Brawn last week stressed that any country which prevented any teams entering it could not stage a race for the world championship.
Bahrain is due to stage its GP a week after Melbourne hosts the season-opening event. It has a similar policy to Vietnam but has eased its restrictions for staff and team members coming into the country for the race.
As with Australia, Italians will face extra screening on arrival in Bahrain as will those who have travelled through high-risk countries in the previous 14 days.
And as in Melbourne, they will be allowed into the country if they are given a clean bill of health.
F1's leaders are attempting to forge a similar agreement with Vietnam, although no deal has yet been struck.
A handful of staff from the race teams are in Australia already – with no problems – but activity at Albert Park will intensify from early next week as team officials, marketing, media and sponsorship executives all arrive and converge on the pit lane complex which is their home virtually 24 hours a day until the race is run and won next Sunday. Cars and freight will arrive at Avalon on Sunday evening.
A GP spokesman said that ticket sales had been strong, despite the worldwide concerns over the disease which has already seen the cancellation of the Chinese Grand Prix in mid April.
"Ticket sales continue to be up year on year across all three categories of general admission, grandstand and corporate. We think that's really significant. Last year's attendance was 324,100 which was our highest since 2005, so we are hopeful of topping that this year."
A spokesman for the tyre company Pirelli, which supplies the racing tyres for the teams, says only one of the company's staff came to Melbourne early. "He landed in Australia 13 days ago as he was following the Superbikes' first race [held at Phillip Island on February 29].
Pirelli is bringing 60 people in total, and all have been under constant surveillance. "All of them are under continuous medical check and care by our medical staff. We have got zero coronavirus issues or connections anyhow so far.
"Between 15 and 20 people will come from Italy, and we know that an initiative shared by the local Australian authorities and F1 we all will be subject to medical check upon arrival. The rest of the group comes mainly from the UK."
However, other nations due to host grands prix in the near future have been more circumspect.
Bahrain organisers have suspended ticket sales for their event on March 22, as they assess how many spectators will be allowed to attend.
A spokesman for the Bahrain International Circuit said that, depending on the outcome, refunds could be offered or more tickets put on sale. "The best way to describe it is we paused ticket sales," he said.
He would not comment on the possibility that the March 22 race at Sakhir, run under floodlights, could be held without spectators. Bahrain has hosted a GP since 2004.
There have been at least 2476 cases of the virus in the Gulf region, mostly in Iran where 77 people have died, and some major concerts and sporting events have been cancelled or postponed.
Meanwhile a Formula E race (for electrically powered cars) which was scheduled for Rome on April 4 will not take place due to the coronavirus, series officials announced.
With Reuters, agencies
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