Ricciardo cancels appearance amid F1 crisis
Four days out from the Australian Grand Prix, three F1 team members have been placed into isolation over concerns they may have contracted coronavirus.
One member from McLaren and two from Haas were evaluated at the Albert Park circuit's isolation unit after showing fever symptoms on Wednesday. The trio has been tested for the virus and placed under self-isolation at their hotels in Melbourne.
"Personnel were showing some symptoms so they got themselves checked out and have put themselves into self-isolation, as they should, while they await results," a Haas team official told AFP.
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The team members in isolation had reportedly been mixing with other personnel on the paddock. Therefore, a positive result for coronavirus would incite calls to cancel the Australian Grand Prix, which takes place on Sunday.
There are over 100 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Australia as of Wednesday, including three deaths. Although Australia has prohibited Italians from entering the country, Italian personnel from Ferrari, AlphaTauri and Pirelli were already in Melbourne before the ban was announced.
Australian F1 star Daniel Ricciardo pulled out of a scheduled Renault team media conference on Wednesday over fears he might be exposed to coronavirus. Ricciardo and teammate Esteban Ocon were due to take questions from reporters after they unveiled Renault's new livery, but were withdrawn by team officials at the last minute.
"Our drivers were supposed to be with us for this event, but due to the situation we've excused them for the occasion," team principal Cyril Abiteboul said.
"I hope you understand why we are taking such measures."
Red Bull driver Max Verstappen spoke to reporters about the coronavirus threat on Wednesday with a bottle of hand sanitiser at his feet.
"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."
On Sunday, it was announced the F1 season's second race in Bahrain would go ahead without fans in a bid to prevent a spread of the deadly virus, which has forced a growing number of sports events to be cancelled, postponed or played behind closed doors.
But Australian Grand Prix Corporation boss Andrew Westacott said that wouldn't be happening in Melbourne.
"Not at all," he told Melbourne radio station SEN when asked if barring fans was being considered.
"When you look at 86,000 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground last night, and the footy the week after, we've got to go around things sensibly and keep moving on through life while taking the necessary precautions."
Skywriting of the words "STOP F1" appeared above Sydney on Wednesday in protest of F1's inaction towards the virus. It was estimated more than 300,000 fans attended last year's Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park.
The #F1 paddock is a very tight knit community and works in close confines. Every year we head to Mexico and US and up to half the paddock gets sick. Let’s hope we can all do everything in our power to make sure possible cases of Coronavirus are contained.— Jennie Gow (@JennieGow) March 11, 2020
The coronavirus outbreak has already forced the postponement of the Chinese Grand Prix initially scheduled for April 19th. There are also some doubts the inaugural Vietnam Grand Prix, the third race this season, will go ahead on April 5th.
The F1 series, like other sports, is threatened by the global spread of the virus. With 22 races on the calendar, the governing body of motorsport has created a select group which will meet every two days and assess the situation.