By Alan Baldwin
LONDON (Reuters) – The season-opening MotoGP race in Qatar next weekend has been canceled because of travel restrictions on passengers from Italy and elsewhere due to the coronavirus epidemic, MotoGP said on Sunday.
The floodlit night race was scheduled for the Losail circuit on March 8.
The joint statement by MotoGP, the governing FIM and teams’ association IRTA said that as of Sunday all passengers arriving in Doha on direct flights from Italy, or who had been in Italy in the past two weeks, faced a minimum of 14 days in quarantine.
“Italy clearly plays a vital role in the championship and in the MotoGP class — both on track and off — and therefore the decision has been taken to cancel premier class competition,” it said.
The Moto2 and Moto3 categories will still race due to those teams and riders already being in Qatar for three days of testing last week.
Ducati and Aprilia are Italy-based teams while Italian riders include Yamaha’s MotoGP great Valentino Rossi.
The 22-strong grid features six Italian riders, with Italian engineers and mechanics spread across the paddock and a large media contingent in attendance.
Italian Andrea Dovizioso won last year’s Qatar Grand Prix for Ducati.
The death toll from an outbreak of coronavirus in Italy has risen to 34, the Civil Protection Agency said on Sunday, with the cumulative number of confirmed cases totaling some 1,694 in the worst such contagion in Europe.
The second round on the MotoGP calendar is scheduled for Thailand on March 22, but that too has been the subject of some uncertainty.
Italy’s Gazzetta dello Sport website reported that the Thai race at Buriram was likely to be postponed until later in the season.
“I was waiting (for) the first race since the last race was finished. So sad and disappointed after such good work but it is what it is… let’s see when our first race will be ,” Petronas Yamaha’s French rider Fabio Quartararo wrote on Twitter.
Formula One, whose season starts in Australia on March 15, has already canceled its Chinese Grand Prix scheduled for Shanghai on April 19.
Ferrari team boss Mattia Binotto last week said he wanted travel assurances before his staff started the journey to Melbourne.
Teams have already rerouted their flights through the Middle East to avoid transit in Far Eastern countries, and Doha is a popular hub.
The Bahrain Grand Prix is also scheduled for the weekend after Australia.
“If there are any medical screenings, we need to know about them,” Binotto told reporters at testing in Spain. “It’s important, really, to make sure that before leaving, the picture, whatever is the scenario, is known and clear.”
Italy-based Ferrari, overall runners-up last year and the sport’s oldest and most glamorous team, also provide Haas and Alfa Romeo with engines.
Alpha Tauri and F1’s sole tire supplier Pirelli are also headquartered in Italy.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ken Ferris)