Formula 1 teams have started contingency planning for the opening races of the season as they grapple with ongoing uncertainty caused by the coronavirus outbreak.
As the virus spreads in Italy, Japan and the Middle East, further restrictions are being put in place that could make travel difficult. All of the F1 teams are European-based – Ferrari, AlphaTauri and tire supplier Pirelli are all headquartered in Italy – and fly to Melbourne for the first race via either the Middle East or Asia. With teams scheduled set to start heading out to Australia in the next seven days, alternative routes are being investigated should the schedule remain unchanged.
Meanwhile, despite F1 CEO Chase Carey saying yesterday that “all systems are go” with regards to the inaugural Vietnamese GP in Hanoi on April 5, the second event in Bahrain is also facing uncertainty. A recent Bahraini ban blocked flights from Emirate cities Dubai and Sharjah – the former a regular hub for F1 teams and personnel – and a number of junior teams and drivers have faced difficulty entering the island state for F2 pre-season testing on Thursday.
The teams are scheduled to have meetings with F1 and the FIA on Friday in Barcelona during which coronavirus will be discussed, and Haas team principal Guenther Steiner admitted that the rapidly-changing nature of the situation is a challenge.
“Everything you say now could be obsolete in an hour,” he said. “If I look at the news at lunch [and then] I look now [in the evening], there is probably something different going on, so it’s very difficult to chase. I don’t know. I just know that they are looking at it carefully.
“You cannot take no risk if you go anywhere these days, everybody is at risk [from something]. To keep it as low as possible and make the right decision… we don’t get involved in that one, we don’t have the resources to do that. They and the FIA have all the connections with the governments and so on. I think they are thoroughly making sure we are as safe as can be.”
While Steiner claimed to be unaware of any potential meeting on Friday, he admitted that Haas is preparing to change travel plans last-minute in order to try and get to the opening rounds.
“It is money talk, but I think it’s very difficult to do,” he said. “At some stage we need to get there, and we could plan anything and it could be obsolete again tomorrow, so we’re hanging on a little bit and waiting [to know] what the decision is. I don’t know what is going to happen. But we are monitoring it and trying to find alternative routes to get to places.”
Williams deputy team principal Claire Williams told Reuters that the rapid rate at which the situation is evolving requires constant attention, and could prove expensive for teams.
“It’s a situation that is changing almost hour by hour and we’re reacting accordingly in order to make sure that we protect the people that work for us,” Williams said. “There are a lot of questions that maybe need to be discussed and answered.
“A lot of our team were routed through Singapore (to Melbourne)… and the cost of having to re-route is significant. It is a big problem, and something we’re trying to work through at the moment.”