Sebastian Vettel says all the Formula 1 drivers are united over the preparations in place amid the coronavirus outbreak and expects the sport to take action if the situation demands it including pulling out of races.

With the coronavirus at the forefront of everyone’s attention on the opening day of the first round of the 2020 F1 season in Australia, Vettel has echoed the mood within the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association (GDPA) to take the outbreak seriously through special health measures.

F1 teams have agreed to scrap the usual open television media sessions, while the majority have also enforced a strict distancing policy to separate its drivers from people in the paddock. Fan autograph sessions have also been replaced by Q&As with further restrictions on fan activities with F1 stars.

Despite the measures, a total of five F1 personnel, from McLaren and Haas respectively, have gone into self-isolation as they wait for coronavirus test results which has raised tension on the COVID-19 spreading within the paddock.

With measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus ramping up worldwide, including the United States’ latest action of banning all non-US citizens from travelling from Europe, Vettel acknowledges F1 must take stronger action if needed – including the drivers potentially not racing “to look after ourselves”.

“We hope it doesn’t get that far,” Vettel said. “If it were to get that far then you pull the handbrake.

“I think we are a group of 20 guys and I think we’ve got together over the last years for various circumstances on various topics and I think we share common opinion on big decisions and that, I would qualify, is a very, very big decision [to not race].

“You look at yourself and we would, I think, be mature enough to look after ourselves and pull the handbrake in that case.”

But for now Vettel backs F1’s management, the FIA and race organisers to make the right calls and says that each individual will take measures they feel are appropriate.

“I think you expect and you hope that we take the right decision, or the sensible decision,” he explained.

“I don’t think I’m the one to judge, and I think, to be completely straight, we are probably in a lucky situation, as in, obviously we are exposed to people, and so on, but I think we can largely control our own situation.

“Obviously in the car we don’t even have a passenger. What I mean is, you try to control the situation for yourself first, as much as you can. That’s selfish but I think everybody in this regard is selfish.

“You see some people being more relaxed about handshakes, others less. Now some laugh it off, some take it very serious. I think, as I said before, my stand on it is that it’s very difficult at the moment to really categorise and say that it is great, I don’t know, serious, or not serious – but that’s why you have to ultimately put yourself into other people’s hands and trust them.

“I’m not an expert, but as far as I understand, some people will have it and you don’t see anything. They show no symptoms. You might have it.  Sorry, but who knows. Maybe to some degree you never know and to another degree you will.

“We want to race – but you can’t ignore the fact that something is going on and you have to be aware of the situation – but answering these questions, I think nobody can.”

Lewis Hamilton, who was sitting alongside Vettel during the Australian GP pre-event press conference, said he was shocked to see the race go ahead as planned compared to the action taken across the world and in other sports.

The NBA has postponed the start of its season while football games across Europe are being postponed or played without fans as part of the coronavirus prevention measures.

“I am very, very surprised we are here,” Hamilton said, having felt economic reasons have driven F1’s willingness to race this weekend.

“It is great we have races but for me it is shocking that we are all sitting in this room [media centre].

“It seems like the rest of the world is reacting, probably a bit late. The NBA has been suspended yet F1 continues to go on.”

The second round of the 2020 F1 season, the Bahrain Grand Prix, will be run behind closed doors next week, while F1 bosses are holding crunch talks with Vietnam GP officials about the new race which is set to host the third round on April 5.

MotoGP and Formula E have already postponed all races until May, effectively leaving the international motorsport calendar empty for the next six weeks with the exception of F1.