13 February 2020

These are uneasy times for F1

While the F1 teams are whipping the covers off their thrusting new bolides on a daily basis, in preparation for the testing which begins in Barcelona next week, Formula 1 is facing some important questions in the weeks ahead, as the Covid-19 virus (the new name that the World Health Organisation has adopted for 2019-nCoV) is still causing questions about the World Championship races in the early part of the year. Large sporting events are not a good idea when there are such problems and China postponed its race on the basis that it was too big a risk to have F1 in town.

The Chinese authorities have created some confusion by changing the way in which they are calculating the number of Covid-19 cases, which means that the number shot up from 46,997 on Wednesday to 60,416 on Thursday, although this sudden hike disguised the fact that the number of new cases each day using the original methodology has been falling. The spread of the virus outside China remains very slow, but there are now 251 people diagnosed with the virus in Japan and 58 in Singapore.

In Formula 1 terms, the immediate questions are Melbourne, Bahrain and Hanoi. Melbourne reported its first case on January 25, the victim being a Chinese national who had flown in from Wuhan on January 19. He was placed in isolation at the Monash Medical Centre in the city’s eastern suburbs. There have been no further reports of any new victims but the city has taken a hit in the last couple of days with the cancellation of Cisco Live, a customer and partner conference which the US technology company was planning for the first week of March. This was to have hosted 8,500 attendees from the Asia Pacific region at the Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre (MCEC). This was cancelled because of fears that the gathering could cause a Covid-19 outbreak. It followed the cancellation of the Mobile World Congress, which was due to take place in Barcelona at the end of February.

Bahrain has no problems with the virus, despite 39 students being put into isolation for two weeks after returning from China. All have now been cleared.

However, in recent hours news from Vietnam indicates that an area which houses 10,000 people at Son Loi, about 25 miles from the planned F1 track, has been placed under official quarantine after six cases were reported there. It is the first mass quarantine outside China since the virus began. Vietnam has already banned all flights to and from mainland China in an effort to stop the virus spreading and no tourist visas are being issued to Chinese nationals or foreigners who had been in China in the course of the past two weeks.

F1 is never usually bothered about such things and goes racing through thick and thin, but given the speed at which F1 circus rushes around the world, and the number of people involved, it could get itself into trouble if anyone picks up the virus.

Down in Melbourne, the biggest news relating to Grand Prix is that the Rail, Tram and Bus Union in Melbourne is threatening to disrupt the Grand Prix with strikes between 10am and 2pm on Thursday, March 12, and Friday, March 13, and between midday and 4pm on Saturday, March 14 and Sunday, March 15. This would not be helpful. The tram service delivers a sizeable percentage of race fans to Albert Park in the course of the race weekend. The union is demanding a five percent annual pay rise over three years, while Yarra Trams has offered 12 per cent over four years.

The inflation rate in Australia in 2019 was 1.9 percent.

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