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F1 teams fear virus outbreak may restrict travel to races

MONTMELÓ, Spain (AP) — The virus outbreak breeding illness and fear around the globe is causing Formula One teams serious concerns about their ability to travel to races with the season set to start in two weeks.

Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto said on Friday on the final day of preseason testing in Spain that the Italian outfit wants guarantees from F1 that its staff will not have trouble entering the host countries of the opening races in Australia and Bahrain.

Ferrari and F1 rival AlphaTauri, as well as F1 tire provider Pirelli, are all based in northern Italy, the epicenter of the Italian outbreak. Haas and Sauber also have some Ferrari employees on their teams because Ferrari provides engines for their cars.

“The situation is certainly concerning us, worrying us, especially back in Italy,” Binotto said. “We are in contact with FIA and F1. What we will need is assurance before leaving (for the Australian Grand Prix). We can’t discover what it is on arrival.”

Italy, with 15 deaths and 650 infections as of Friday, was the first European country to experience a major outbreak of the virus, with several cases in Spain reported from people having traveled back from northern Italy.

Binotto said Ferrari had already kept some of its staff who work with F2 teams from travelling to tests in Bahrain amid reports that other Italian members of F2 teams had been delayed from entering the country.

Australia has banned travellers from China entering the country. Australia has also issued warnings for its citizens regarding travel in Italy. It has not banned travel from the European country.

The Australian GP is on March 15 in Melbourne. Ferrari is travelling to the inaugural race a week in advance.

F1 announced two weeks ago it postponed the Chinese GP, scheduled to take place on April 19, due to the virus that erupted in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

But F1 chief executive Chase Carey says other races are still on.

“We’re heading to Melbourne, heading to Bahrain and heading to Hanoi (for the Vietnam GP),” he said this week.

AlphaTauri team principal Franz Tost was worried about his team being at a handicap if the situation continues to worsen and some of his staff can’t travel.

“If teams can’t run for whatever reason (…) then I think it would be unfair to start the season because this is a big disadvantage,” Tost said.

“Regarding Bahrain (for F2), if I’m informed right, people coming from Italy had a medical check and if they are not sick, if they don’t have the coronavirus, then they can, of course, work in there. And I expect something similar with Formula One.”

The COVID-19 virus has already caused problems in F2, the feeder competition for F1.

F2 team ART said on Friday that Danish racer Christian Lundgaard will not be able to take part in the preseason in Bahrain because he was among 600 hotel guests completing a 14-day quarantine on the Spanish island of Tenerife. They were kept for screening after four hotel guests tested positive for coronavirus.

ART says Lundgaard has undergone medical tests and is not displaying any symptoms.

The virus has infected more than 83,000 people worldwide and caused more than 2,800 deaths.

Defending F1 champion Lewis Hamilton said everyone should takes precautions.

“I have been watching the news and like everyone I’m concerned about how it is continuing to spread,” the Mercedes driver said.

“I hope those who have it recover, and that everyone takes this seriously. Everyone is hugging and shaking hands and it could be all around us. You never know. Even travel is difficult.”

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More AP racing: https://www.racing.ap.org

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