After months of waiting, Formula One is finally back this upcoming weekend to have its first race of the season in the beautiful scenery of Red Bull Ring, Austria. But the first race is nothing ordinary - with the (still ongoing) pandemic dictating the procedures and measures, the Austrian paddock looks nothing like we are used to. With no fans allowed at the grandstands and only a handful of key personnel allowed in the paddock, F1 imposes strict safety and health measures to try and limit any potential spread of the COVID-19 virus.
But despite many limitations, such as the teams having to be in their own “bubbles”, Carlos Sainz Jr expressed his concern, being worried about the possibility of missing a race because of a positive COVID-19 test, even if no symptoms are on display.
As Sainz said in an instagram live chat with CNN Sport: “You might have Covid-19 and you don’t even know you have it and don’t even have symptoms or someone in the team doesn’t even have symptoms and they have it and you might miss a race because of that.”
He continued: “And after four months of not racing and of wanting to go racing, suddenly you are perfectly well and healthy but you have tested positive for Covid-19 so cannot race in Formula 1, after four months, it would be a horrible feeling and something that I want to take care of not happening. You might as well get it from pure bad luck and you can’t do anything against it, you just have to skip a couple of races because of that. But the worst part of it would be to feel perfect, feel like you feel now, have Covid-19 in your system or in your blood, and not being able to race.”
When it comes to the pandemic situation and the upcoming beginning of the season, the McLaren F1 chief Andreas Seidl is confident that the measures undertaken for the Austrian GP should successfully prevent a repeat of the situation the team has been facing in Australia this year, when they had to withdraw from the GP after one of the employees tested positive for the virus. As many remember, McLaren’s decision was the one that put the events of that GP in motion, ultimately leading to the cancelation of the event. After that, F1 was forced to call off the next 9 races of the season due to the spread of the pandemic around the world. In a recent interview, Seidl expressed his confident when it comes to the new procedures that would ensure McLaren will not be forced to withdraw again if the situation with a positive test happens again.
As he said: “I’m very happy with the plan that has been developed under the leadership of the FIA, which clearly gives us clear procedures of how we execute the race weekend in Austria. What is different now to Australia is that we have a clear concept of isolation of the teams, between each other. We will show up in Austria in these different groups, and we are building, in addition to that, set groups within the team.”
He added: “The policy is clear. If anyone would develop symptoms, we would immediately test the team member in the paddock, plus all the close contacts as well, so all the members of this sub-group. We should get the test result within a couple of hours on-site, which then allows us to make a quick decision of what the next steps are. If someone is positive, he needs to be isolated from the team and can’t continue. But for everyone else who is not affected or who is negative, we can simply keep going.”
All of the members of McLaren race team have undergone regular testing in recent weeks, with all of them coming back as negative. Additionally, McLaren will have back-up personnel on standby in UK that will fly to Austria in case one of the members of the race team will have to pull out. Andreas Seidl said that although all of the procedures should ensure minimal risk to anyone, the nature of the virus meant that there still is a potential risk when it comes to the drivers and them having to pull out if tested positive.
As he said: “We have to be honest, the risk is there, because in the end it’s a virus, and as we have seen, it can spread quite quickly. But at the same time, with all the measures we have in place now, with all the testing of the people already before arriving at the circuit, and following this over several weeks now, we think we will arrive down there in Austria well prepared.”
He added: “We know it can happen anytime, that some team members are developing the virus, and then it’s important we strictly follow all the procedures we have in place.”