By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Formula One team Haas said two more of its crew members had been isolated and tested for the coronavirus in Melbourne on Thursday, as a senior state health official warned that the season-opening Australian Grand Prix could be scrapped.
Haas now have a total of four of their crew quarantined after reporting that two had self-isolated on Wednesday, along with one team member from McLaren.
Haas team principal Guenther Steiner said the two latest quarantined staff had reported feeling unwell.
“It’s four in total, one engineer and I think three mechanics,” he told reporters at Albert Park.
“We should collect the results in the afternoon.”
Steiner said the absence of the four had not impacted the team’s preparations.
“No, at the moment we can cope with (it).
“The most impact for me is that I hope that they are well and this afternoon that they just have a cold and can come back and work tomorrow.”
Steiner’s comments came after Victoria state’s top health official warned that positive tests in the paddock at Albert Park could lead to the race being scrapped.
“If (the tests) turn up positive, we need to consider what it means for their close contacts and if they have a number of close contacts across a number of crews, then those individuals need to be quarantined,” Sutton told Melbourne radio station 3AW.
“If that effectively shuts down the race, then so be it, we’ll make that call.”
McLaren said they were still awaiting test results and had “no information” on when they expected to receive them.
The Australian Grand Prix Corporation (AGPC) did not provide immediate comment about the tests or the viability of holding the race.
Australian media reported health authorities are battling to work through a logjam of coronavirus tests as thousands of people flock to clinics.
Sutton said he would tell authorities to fast-track the McLaren and Haas tests because of the “implications for all of the other crew.”
Despite the coronavirus concerns, crowds of spectators turned up to Albert Park on a warm, sunny day on Thursday to watch practice and qualifying for lower-profile racing circuits.
The Chinese Grand Prix, which was scheduled for April, has been postponed while the Bahrain GP, the second stop in the F1 calendar, has banned fans from attending the March 22 race.
The AGPC on Monday dismissed any need to restrict spectators from Albert Park, where more than 300,000 turned up during race week last year, according to organisers’ estimates.
Sutton also saw little point in banning fans at the Melbourne race.
“I don’t think crowds are the issue here,” he said.
“I think the segregation of (F1) crews from each other and also the crowd is really important but crowd gathering is like any other mass gathering.
“Three hundred thousand come every day to the city to work, that’s a mass gathering. Public transport is a mass gathering every day.”
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)