Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto recognises the coronavirus spread remains at the forefront of worldwide attention but hopes Formula 1 can deliver a timely distraction with the 2020 opener in Australia.

The Italian manufacturer issued a statement yesterday (March 8) confirming it will have a full strength team at the Australian Grand Prix amid travel bans enforced on northern regions of Italy, including at Ferrari’s Maranello base, which impacts 16 million people in attempts to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

Italy has been the worst hit European country with 7,375 cases of COVID-19 reported which has resulted in 366 deaths. Schools across the country have been closed and large sporting events have either been cancelled or banned spectators from attending.

In a Ferrari preview ahead of the 2020 opener at Albert Park, Binotto acknowledges the situation in Italy and worldwide casts a shadow over the start of the season but hopes putting on the Australian GP provides joy for F1 and Ferrari fans.

“At what is a difficult time for Italy and the world as a whole, as part of a global sport, it is our obligation to try and put a smile on people’s faces as they prepare to watch the first race of the season with the same sense of anticipation as ourselves,” Binotto said.

“After a long winter working on building and developing our car, the time has come to get a first indication of our performance level and how effective are the improvements we have introduced over the past few months.”

The Ferrari boss has also repeated his expectations that the likes of Mercedes and Red Bull will be tough opponents in the fight for F1 supremacy but is confident his team is up for the challenge which starts this weekend at Albert Park.

“We know that the opposition is strong, but we also know that it is the start of a long season where development rate, reliability, and our operational effectiveness will be key,” he said.

“We are gearing up to tackle all these challenges as a united team, conscious of the progress that needs to be made and proud of the support of our fans worldwide.”

Ferrari saw its run of consecutive Australian GP wins ended 12 months ago by Valtteri Bottas for Mercedes.

The Scuderia also failed to win any of the final six races at the end of the 2019 season following a hat-trick of wins across the Belgian, Italian and Singapore rounds which were secured under suspicious circumstances around its engine performance. Ferrari is set to face questions about its private settlement with the FIA on its power unit investigation after seven rival teams voiced objections.