Formula 1 teams have agreed to scrap the usual open television media sessions with drivers throughout the season-opening Australian Grand Prix as a precaution over the coronavirus outbreak.

During media day at Melbourne on Thursday, the teams jointly decided to cancel all TV ‘scrum’ sessions with their drivers as part of a host of extra precautions being put in place at the Australian Grand Prix amid the ongoing situation.

Instead, a single television camera from F1’s host broadcaster will now be used for interviews. Teams have also been adopting a two-metre exclusion zone around drivers during their media sessions.

COVID-19 has now officially been labelled as a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO) with more than 126,000 people affected by the flu-like virus globally. A number of worldwide sporting events have already been postponed or cancelled altogether due to the outbreak of coronavirus.

Prior to the TV media sessions being canned, race organisers announced on Wednesday that official autograph sessions would not be taking place across the weekend in a bid to avoid interaction between drivers and fans.

Just 24 hours after three F1 personnel members from the McLaren and Haas teams had begun self-isolating in their respective hotels after being tested for coronavirus, Haas confirmed that two more of its team members were being put into quarantine while awaiting test results. The results are yet to come back for the five members of the F1 paddock.

Meanwhile, the GPDA put out the following statement on Thursday morning: "The GPDA has full trust in the Australian health authorities, the FIA, F1 and our teams to act with the best intentions to safeguard the health, welfare and safety of fans, officials, drivers and wider communities.

“The GPDA has been in contact with F1 and FIA throughout last week and we know they are working hard and thoroughly on this challenging task.

“We are all in this together and no one takes this situation lightly, but feel the responsibility falls on everyone, the locals as well as us global travellers, to be especially vigilant and cautious in these difficult times the coronavirus pandemic brings upon us all.

“To this end, the GPDA would respectfully suggest that we all, our Australian friends, fans, race community and drivers to maintain a safe distance and avoid one to one contact like selfies, autographs and shaking hands. 

"These proposed steps to mitigate risk are in line with relevant guidance provided by public health authorities.”

Speaking on Thursday, McLaren’s Carlos Sainz insisted he was feeling “comfortable” about the season-opener going ahead amid the coronavirus crisis.

“I am concerned just like everybody else in the paddock, but I think at the same time at the moment me myself and my personal situation I am in a comfortable situation,” he said.

“It is a bit different, obviously you feel a bit sorry for the fans that turn up to a circuit, and you cannot have a chat with them, sign some autographs, take some selfies like we always do.

“But at the same time you don’t want to feel sorry if one of us is infected or whatever, or you could end up feeling sorry for them for us being contagious to them.

“So I think it is common sense. It is sad but at the same time is what we need to do at the moment.”

AlphaTauri driver Pierre Gasly described it as "a really strange situation", adding: "At the moment my head is in Australia, trying to start the season in the best way as we can.

"What happens in the future, there’s so many things coming out every day that I don’t want to spend too much energy speculating or thinking about it now." 

 

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