Sport Motorsport Formula one: Virus-hit Bahrain bans fans, but Melbourne says ‘she’ll be right’
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Formula one: Virus-hit Bahrain bans fans, but Melbourne says ‘she’ll be right’

The Bahrain Grand Prix circuit, seen here during pre-season testing in 2015, will be mostly empty for the 2020 race. Photo: Andrew Tate
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The Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix is held in a desert many kilometres outside of Manama, but this year there’ll be no fans attending the March 22 race after officials announced a coronavirus-inspired lockout.

For the season opener in Melbourne, though – it is pedal to the metal and ‘she’ll be right mate’.

Bahrain hosts the second round of the season at the Sakhir circuit and the country is fearful of a wider outbreak of the virus after 83 cases  linked mostly to people with links to Iran.

The biggest concern for Australian Grand Prix officials so far has been ensuring that the big-drawing Ferrari team was cleared for travel to Melbourne given Italy’s disastrous outbreaks.

On Monday local organisers were still playing chill, keen to highlight that Australians would be mingling and doing business as usual as they hosted a media tour of the Albert Park hospitality suites.

Ticket sales may always be up, but whether the fans turn out will be another matter – let alone the likelihood of getting hold of toilet paper should the pre-race nerves hit.

Sebastian Vettel
Fan favourite: Ferrari ace Sebastian Vettel won the 2018 race in Melbourne. Photo: Getty

Given April’s Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai has already been postponed, Bahrain’s race chiefs were more circumspect in their messaging given the current climate.

“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,” Bahrain official said in a statement.

To ensure that neither the sport, nor its global supporter base, is unduly impacted, the race weekend itself will still go ahead as a televised event.’’

Australian officials have been guided by health authorities on the risks of virus transmission, with border staff implementing stronger monitoring of people arriving in the country.

Australian Grand Prix chief executive Andrew Westacott confirmed on Monday that the Alpha Tauri and Ferrari cars from Italy had arrived at Avalon Airport and rejected any suggestion of the race being held behind closed doors.

“Not a chance,” Westacott told Melbourne radio sport radio station SEN.

When you look at 86,000 at the MCG … 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.

“The key personnel are on their planes.

“Interestingly, the only two people who didn’t hail from Italy were Sebastian Vettel, who came out of Switzerland, and Charles Leclerc coming out of Monaco via Nice.

“All the others are on their way, and we’re expecting (them) in the next 12 to 24 hours.”

AAP reports that Bahrain has suspended flights to some destinations over concerns of the rapidly spreading virus.

It has also asked people entering the country who have recently visited Italy, South Korea, Egypt and Lebanon to isolate themselves for two weeks.

Maranello, Italy, home of the Ferrari team, is within the affected area.

But both Ferrari and Red Bull-owned AlphaTauri, which is based at Faenza, will still race in Bahrain because they will be coming from Australia.

“Depending on where they flew through on the way from Melbourne, there is a process that you go through,” the Bahrain circuit spokesman said of the Italian teams.

For the time being, the world’s greatest road show will at least get one outing in Melbourne this weekend in a formula one season that could yet see more disruption.

-with AAP 

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