Coronavirus dominates the day

There’s was only one word on the lips of the paddock as it convened for its first official day of activity: coronavirus.

Five team personnel – one from McLaren and four from Haas — were in isolation by Thursday morning awaiting test results after showing symptoms associated with COVID-19, which had been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation that morning. Haas chief Guenther Steiner said he expected results for two of his staff by this afternoon, but no confirmation has been forthcoming.

However, except for teams keeping drivers at least two metres from other paddock interlopers and the appearance of hand sanitiser stands, the sport’s response to the virus has been inconsistent. Some are going about business as usual, while others are refraining completely from any kind of physical contact with others. A bizarre elbow tap is being used by some as a handshake substitute.

Doctors call for race boycott as public opposition grows

Meanwhile, a group of local doctors are calling for fans to boycott the Australian Grand Prix for fear the event, which draws around 300,000 spectators over the course of the weekend, could serve to accelerate the spread of the disease.

University of New South Wales professor Marylouise McLaws told Melbourne’s Age that fans should watch the race from home if it goes ahead, as seems likely, while associate professor of the Victorian Australian Medical Association Julian Rait said he would advise his family and patients not to attend.

Skywriting appeared over Sydney that read ‘STOP F1’, and #CancelTheGrandPrix was the No. 3 trending topic in Melbourne on Twitter — behind Tom Hanks, who has tested positive for the virus, and Lewis Hamilton, who has spoken out against hosting the race in pandemic conditions.

The latest advice from the Victorian state government is that the race can continue.

Hamilton puts the boot in

Lewis Hamilton pulled no punches when asked about his feelings during the revamped drivers press conference in the afternoon. The reigning world champion said he thought it was “shocking” the event was going ahead as planned.

His comments came shortly after news the NBA was suspending its season after an unnamed Utah Jazz player tested positive for COVID-19.

“I am really very, very surprised that we’re here,” Hamilton said. “It seems like the rest of the world is reacting, probably a little bit late … yet Formula 1 continues to go on.”

Asked whether he thought the sport was putting economic concerns ahead of safety, Hamilton’s answer was cutting: “Cash is king”.

Melbourne walk, autograph sessions at a distance

As a result of the virus, the iconic Melbourne Walk which allows fans to meet and get photos with the drivers and other high-profile team staff as they enter and exit the circuit has been altered to maintain at least two metres between the public and Formula 1 personnel.

The Australian Grand Prix Corporation has also cancelled autograph sessions, turning them instead into question and answer sessions for the fans.

Ferrari vs the world continues

The other major ongoing story in Formula 1 is the controversial settlement reached between the FIA and Ferrari over an investigation into the Italian team’s 2019 power unit.

No formal announcements have been made since the seven aggrieved teams released their public letter reserving the right to legal action, but behind the scenes further conversations have taken place with the FIA, and pressure is now being applied to Ferrari to reveal further information on the deal.

“I believe it’s up to Ferrari to approve that disclosure,” Claire Williams said, though there’s no sign any further information is immediately forthcoming.

Track changes considered but not imminent

While the Australian GP is a popular start to the season, the circuit itself — celebrating its 25th F1 world championship race this year — doesn’t lend itself to great racing, with modern downforce-laden Formula 1 machinery having outgrown the tight confines of the semi-street track.

Race organisers and F1 management have been open about their explorations of track modifications in the past, with resurfacing, corner reprofiling and track extensions all periodically in the mix.

Daniel Ricciardo has been part of the consultation process and said he believed he spoke for most of the drivers in saying he’d welcome some changes despite enjoying the current layout.

“We were asked out opinion, I guess a few of us, if we thought the track could do with some changes, and we were told there are some areas on the track they could widen or try and change the angle of the corner to try and open it up and create maybe bigger braking zones or basically more chances for overtaking,” he said.” “I think this is what’s trying to be achieved.

“I’m definitely open for that, because we’ve also driven this layout for a while, so if a few corners change, if it did make the show on Sunday better, I think we’d be okay with that.”

 

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