The Australian GP is in crisis mode following revelations three Formula One team personnel were moved into self-isolation.
The Australian GP is in crisis mode following revelations three Formula One team personnel were moved into self-isolation.

Australian Grand Prix rocked by triple coronavirus scare

The Australian Grand Prix has been hit by a coronavirus scare after three Formula One team personnel were on Wednesday moved into precautionary self-isolation and tested for the virus.

The HAAS Formula One team last night confirmed two of its team personnel had been taken into isolation and had been tested for the virus.

McLaren also confirmed one of its team members had been moved away from the track to isolate at the hotel after experiencing a headache and signs of a fever.

McLaren team manager Paul James said the team was hoping to get test results back within 12 hours, but was unsure how long it would take due a testing back-log.

"I can confirm we had a guy with a headache this morning and then he showed signs of a fever," James said.

"So he is being tested, he's being isolated in the hotel and that's where we are at the moment.

"We are sticking to our policies we set out back at McLaren. That's all we can do basically.

"Because of the backlog (for testing) here in Melbourne, we are hoping (it will be) 12 hours, but it could be a day, it could be two days - 12 hours is what we are hoping for."

A HAAS spokesman confirmed two of its team members had self-isolated Thursday morning, but would not say what symptoms they had presented with or which role in the team they held.

"It's definitely not the drivers," the spokesman said.

"We'll just wait for the test results. Don't know (how long that will take)."

Australian Grand Prix Corporation chief executive Andrew Westacott said it was monitoring the situation closely with Formula One and the FIA.

"The Australian Grand Prix Corporation has been informed of three Formula One team personnel presenting for precautionary testing and who are now all undergoing precautionary self-isolation," Westacott said in a statement.

"The AGPC is monitoring the situation in conjunction with Formula One and the FIA."

McLaren said it would continue to be vigilant with the rest of its team members.

"We had a plan before we came here and we are sticking to that plan basically," team manager James said.

HAAS did not expect the isolation of its team members to compromise its ability to compete this weekend "if things stay as they are".

The spokesman said the team would continue to follow the guidelines it had been given by Formula One and consulting health professionals this weekend.

"We've already had consultants into the team to talk about hygiene and all the rest of it, so basically just following all the guidelines Formula One has given us and that our own health professionals have been advising us," he said.

The move comes as Renault drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Esteban Ocon were on Wednesday "excused" from a scheduled media event amid the growing concerns over the spread of the virus.

Daniel Ricciardo was “excused” from a media opportunity. Picture: David Caird
Daniel Ricciardo was “excused” from a media opportunity. Picture: David Caird

Ricciardo and his new teammate Ocon were scheduled to join a media conference after the team's livery reveal and partnership announcement at the Albert Park track.

But after posing for photographs on stage, the pair was whisked away and Renault team principal Cyril Abiteboul was left to explain their absence.

Abiteboul said the team had to take "measures" to protect its drivers under the circumstances the Formula One season would be starting this week.

"Obviously when we were planning this event, we were expecting a bit more of a light atmosphere," Abiteboul said.

"Obviously I am referring to the very particular circumstance in which we are joining Australia and Melbourne.

"Usually it is a moment that we all love when we are racing in Formula One, so first I wanted to make a mention of that.

"I also wanted to say that our drivers were supposed to be with us for that event, but due to the situation we've excused them for the occasion. I hope you understand why we have to take such measures."

F1 STARS USE 'FORCE FIELD' TO AVOID CORONAVIRUS

Red Bull Racing is taking no chances with the health of its drivers at this week's Australian Grand Prix, limiting human contact amid the global coronavirus crisis.

Precautions were put in place for drivers Max Verstappen and Alex Albon at a media call at Station Pier as reporters and photographers were told to keep a one-two metre buffer from the Formula One stars.

Verstappen conducted interviews with a bottle of hand sanitiser at his feet and said handshakes would be a no-go during the opening race of the season.

"Of course, it's all tricky at the moment but we are trying to make the best of it and try to get on with the start of the season and hopefully we have an exciting weekend," Verstappen said.

"You try to do the whole week as normal as possible, but of course like we are doing at the moment, you try to take a little bit of a precaution.

Journalists had to comply to a one-metre radius of Red Bull drivers Max Verstappen and Alexander Albon. Picture: AAP/Scott Barbour
Journalists had to comply to a one-metre radius of Red Bull drivers Max Verstappen and Alexander Albon. Picture: AAP/Scott Barbour

"A lot of (hand sanitiser) gel. Try to limit a bit (of) human contact, of course. Not really (handshakes). I think that's the most sensible thing to do at the moment."

The coronavirus has already forced the postponement of April's Chinese Grand Prix, while the Bahrain Grand Prix, second on the calendar after Melbourne, will be staged without spectators.

Making a return to the Formula One calendar, the Dutch Grand Prix is now scheduled to be the fourth race of the season in early May.

But Verstappen said he had not given any thought to the prospect of his home race in front of his legion of Dutch fans being impacted.

"I just honestly try not to think that far ahead. I think it's more important to focus on what is happening right now," Verstappen said.

 

Max Verstappen a taste of Oz. Picture: AAP/Scott Barbour
Max Verstappen a taste of Oz. Picture: AAP/Scott Barbour

 

"It's of course, very serious, but let's see what happens in the coming months.

"It already impacted the championship, but I just hope it's not a lot more. It's not in our hands."

Verstappen admitted it would be strange racing without spectators in Bahrain.

"I have not experienced that before in my life so I think it is going to be new for everyone," he said.

The Red Bull drivers enjoyed some fun and frivolity as they raced motorised scooters at Station Pier in Port Melbourne, but no one in the team was taking the coronavirus situation lightly.

Verstappen's Thai teammate Albon admitted there was a lot of uncertainty for the championship.

"We've already seen China (postponed). It is very uncertain the future of what is going to happen," he said.

 

Max Verstappen and Alexander Albon flies around the track. Picture: Alex Burstow/Getty
Max Verstappen and Alexander Albon flies around the track. Picture: Alex Burstow/Getty

 

"It is clearly a very serious topic and the team, as well as us (drivers), we are taking serious measures towards it. We can control what we do, but obviously with everything that is going on, there is not really much we can do."

Albon, entering his second Formula One season after a mid-season promotion to Red Bull last year, said it would be a fine balance between protecting the drivers and teams and giving something to the fans at this weekend's opening race at Albert Park.

"It's going to be different," Albon said.

"I'm not sure what has been put in place to be honest with you, but hopefully we can find the right balance between the drivers and the teams the safety because it is obviously a serious problem and giving something to the fans to be able to interact with us in some way."