Bahrain GP behind closed doors – Coronavirus continues to affect motorsport

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On Sunday morning it became evident that Formula One and MotoGP have to overcome further hurdles after the Italian government and the organisiers of the Bahrain Grand Prix announced new measurements as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

Christian Horner seems to have hit the nail on its head when he called the situation revolving around the outbreak of the coronavirus a moving target at the end of the pre-season testing. After numerous changes to the calendar or travelling routes, motorsport has been hit hard once again on Saturday evening when new measurements have been announced to prevent the uncontrolled spread of the coronavirus.

After Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte signed a decree early Sunday millions of people across northern Italy have been put under lockdown. The government’s announcement came after the country saw a dramatic spike of 1,247 confirmed novel coronavirus cases on Saturday.

The new measurements mean that people are not supposed to be able to enter or leave Lombardy and fourteen other provinces including Modena, Parma, Piacenza, Reggio Emilia, Rimini, Pesaro and Urbino, Alessandria, Asti, Novara, Verbano Cusio Ossola, Vercelli, Padua, Treviso and Venice.

These areas include Milan where Pirelli’s headquarter is located and also the Modena region where Ferrari is based. MotoGP’s factory Yamaha team is also affected as it operates from Lombardy. Formula’s One’s other Italian team AlphaTauri is currently unaffected as it its Faenza-based factory is clear of the lockdown.

Despite to Italy’s latest measurement, Formula One’s season-opening Australian Grand Prix could go ahead as Ferrari’s and Pirelli’s personnel may have already touched down in Australia, but it remains to be seen how it affects the further races in Bahrain and Vietnam.

Formula One’s sporting director Ross Brawn made clear that if a team is unable to reach a venue due to the situation around the coronavirus outbreak, the sport will cancel the specific event.

"If a team is prevented from entering a country, we can't have a race. Not a Formula 1 world championship race, anyway, because that would be unfair,” he told Reuters.

Bahrain GP to be run behind closed doors

In the meantime, the organisiers of the Bahrain Grand Prix have also issued a statement on Sunday morning, claiming that they have decided to run their race behind closed doors. The organisiers announced a couple of days ago that they were halting ticket sales due to the uncertainty around the way how the COVID-19 has been evolving.

However, the kingdom has announced today that the 22 March race will be a televised event only to protect the sport and its global supporter base. The statement said that the organisiers feel that it is their responsibility to balance the welfare of supporters and the race goers.

"In consultation with our international partners and the Kingdom's national health Taskforce, Bahrain has made the decision to hold this year's Bahrain Grand Prix as a participants-only event," it said.

"Given the continued spread of COVID-19 globally, convening a major sporting event, which is open to the public and allows thousands of international travellers and local fans to interact in close proximity would not be the right thing to do at the present time.

The kingdom has justified its aggressive approach to the situation by claiming that it has been successful so far with protecting the country from the coronavirus with only a few cases identified.

„Bahrain's own early actions to prevent, identify and isolate cases of individuals with COVID-19 has been extremely successful to date. The approach has involved rapid, proactive measures, identifying those affected by the virus, of which the overwhelming majority of cases relate to those travelling into the country by air.”

The effect of the COVID-19 on motorsport

In recent weeks, the very different parts of the motorsport world has had to implement changes to their 2020 plans including their actual calendar, their travelling staff and routes due to the outbreak of the coronavirus.

The outbreak of the virus originated in the Wuhan region of China, but has since spread rapidly. In Europe, Italy has become the epicentre of the virus, with the number of cases surpassing the 5800 and the number of deaths is over 230. The country lying on a peninsula is the fourth most affected location in the world behind mainland China, South Korea and Iran with other European countries like France, Germany and Spain also heavily affected. Outside Europe, Japan is another country with a hugh number of cases (461) followed by the USA where 436 cases have been registered.

Since most of the motorsport series are about to kick off their 2020 season, their organisiers have been forced to react on the coronavirus outbreak.

In China, the opening round of the China GT Championship and the Asia GT Festival have been cancelled while Formula One’s Chinese Grand Prix has also been postponed to an undefined date.

MotoGP has been also affected in different ways. The series was to begin his weekend in Qatar, but several Italian key figures including teams and drivers were denied access to the country without the need of going into quarantine, the premier class has cancelled its first round. However, as Moto2 and Moto3 outfits and drivers had been at the scene for testing for longer, the opening race for the two support categories could go ahead. The championship’s second round in Thailand has been postoned as well which means that the Austin race could become the season-opener.

Formula 2 has also been affected by the COVID-19. Formula One’s support series tested in Bahrain last weekend, but Renault-backed Formula 2 racer Christian Lundgaard was unable to reach Manama after he has been placed in quarantine at a hotel in Tenerife.

The coronavirus has affected the world of the sportcar racing as well. The German DTM championship originally planned a test session on 16-18 March on the Monza circuit, but it has been relocated to Hockenheim. The series has since confirmed that the test will take place behind closed doors.

The International GT Open has also postponed its first winter test that was scheduled for March 6-7 at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.