Feb.28 (GMM) Formula 1 has gone into high alert over the ever-deepening coronavirus crisis.
When a reporter for RTBF had a coughing fit during an interview on Thursday, Esteban Ocon asked him at the Barcelona test: “That’s not coronavirus, is it?”
It was a joke, but the widespread anxiety is real.
Alpha Tauri, whose factory is located in the highly affected northern region of Italy, has gone so far as to ban handshakes.
“We have asked the employees to take hygiene measures a lot more seriously,” team boss Franz Tost told RTL.
“This is really serious,” he added. “We have instructed employees from the red zones to stay at home because we do not want them at the factory.
“We have also dramatically reduced travel,” said Tost. “I hope there will be no cases in Faenza or Bologna so that we don’t slip into the red zone too. But the situation changes every hour.”
With multiple races on the 2020 calendar now in jeopardy, Toto Wolff admitted the situation is serious and worsening.
“A week ago everything was quite normal,” said the Mercedes boss. “But after it came to Italy and other countries the situation is totally different now.
“These sporting events, with many people – I think we are at risk.”
So while the earlier risk was about the viability of certain races going ahead, F1 personnel are now getting worried about their actual health.
“In our sport there are a lot of fans who want to take photos with us,” said Daniel Ricciardo. “We always try to be nice, but it is difficult at the moment.”
F1 legend Alain Prost said: “I’ve been in Formula 1 for 40 years and seen many different situations, but this is different.
“This morning I flew to Barcelona by plane and there were a lot of people with masks. We travel a lot and it is difficult to imagine what will happen.
“We have to take care of our people,” the Renault team advisor added. “The situation with coronavirus could interfere with our sport and we will have to see what the solution from FOM is.
“In Geneva they doubt they can hold the auto show, and it’s the same with many other events. We can only wait and see but personally I am very concerned and I am sure all the other teams share my concerns,” said Prost.