Alexander Albon, Max Verstappen,, Red Bull, Albert Park, 2020

Red Bull rejected idea to expose its F1 drivers to Coronavirus, says Marko

2020 F1 season

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Red Bull motorsport consultant Helmut Marko has revealed the team considered deliberately exposing its F1 drivers to Coronavirus in the hope it would immunise them against it.

Marko told Austrian broadcaster ORF the plan “was discussed within a small circle, and it was not accepted positively”.

The plan would have involved Red Bull’s four F1 drivers – Max Verstappen, Alexander Albon, Pierre Gasly and Daniil Kvyat – and some of its Junior Team members.

The Covid-19 Coronavirua has claimed almost 35,000 lives worldwide. The global pandemic has led to eight of the first rounds of the 2020 F1 season being postponed or cancelled.

While its effects are considered most dangerous for the elderly, younger people have also died as a result of the virus. It is not yet clear whether someone who has caught it once can catch it again.

The 76-year-old former F1 driver suspects he may have already contracted coronavirus earlier this year.

“In February I had, as I [then] surmised, a heavy cold,” he said. “The symptoms are consistent with Corona. It was something I have never before experienced to this level of intensity.” He added he wants to be tested for the virus as soon as possible.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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56 comments on “Red Bull rejected idea to expose its F1 drivers to Coronavirus, says Marko”

  1. It was absurd they even discussed this, even more how he felt it was ok to share it!

    1. why? “Pox parties” are not uncommon in many parts of the world.

    2. Same as it would be absurd to send a driver onto a circuit where he has a higher percentage chance of serious injury than he does from this virus?

  2. As if people didn’t dislike him enough already.

    1. To be fair to ‘him’, @hugh11, it is not clear from the original article who came up with the idea and who rejected it.
      Maybe Dr Marko was the only wise guy in the room, or found out about it later.

      note: I’m not in Austria and cannot watch the full interview (or bother to set up VPN).
      Is there a freely available version?

      1. @coldfly
        Well, judging by his body language in the video I’d say it was his idea. He only mentioned that the drivers were not very amused by this idea.

        I can see why the team was thinking about it, but it’s still very bizarre and quite dangerous to try something like a ‘Corona-camp’.

  3. Stephen Higgins
    30th March 2020, 16:14

    I have no words.

    Totally irresponsible.

    1. When F1 is run by people with this kind of fine ethics and high morality, I don’t think I could bother showing interest anymore.

      Strongly reminds of practices some 75 to 80 years ago in certain parts of Europe. Simply disgusting.

    2. Imagine how irresponsible it must be to send drivers onto a circuit where there is a higher percentage chance of serious injury than there is from this virus.

      Perspective is wonderful, no?

  4. A ‘chickenpox party’, with unknown immune benefits, starring a little-understood virus, for the team’s most valuable assets.

    I have no idea why they rejected it…

    1. Believe it or not, “herd immunity” was for a week or so official strategy to combat the virus here in the UK. But luck was on our side and the policy was dropped sharpish.

      1. Actually, it’s still the only policy that gets the world out of this current crisis.

        The reason everything is shut down is because everyone is still potentially an infection risk and a transmission. Only once herd immunity is achieved can things get back to normal, since the majority are no longer infection or transmission risks.

        1. @neilosjames Islander Dale Most of the world is aiming for minimising infections, or at least reducing them to an amount the economy can carry, until a vaccine becomes available or the lethality of the strains decreases (both probable in the medium term). A couple of nations seem to be trying to brazen it out. All of these are alternatives to the herd immunity option. It will be a while before we know which is the most effective.

  5. This is absolutely disgraceful to hear. I wonder what Horner has to say about this. He might be even positive with the virus based on the last paragraph.

  6. May have been a good idea. Its likely many people have had it, including the drivers, and not even showed symptoms.

    A new study from Iceland reveals 50% of infected don’t show any symptoms at all.

    1. Are you kidding me? Even normal healthy people can get sick and die by the virus.
      Also there isnt’t any evidence that you get immune once you had it. There are some who got sick twice. There is also research suggesting that people who already had it can become carriers for a second time without getting sick.
      And finally, not only can scarring lung tissue cause fibrosis even in healthy people, new research shows heart damage can also occur.

      So instead of going into quaraintine trying NOT to get the virus you are saying they should just risk their lives and hope they will get immune?

      1. Adding: Untill its 100% clear immunity is a real thing and quaraintine not being an option its crazy to risk your life and future health.
        Also this was in back in Melbourne when there was even less information about the virus.
        Shows how crazy Marko really is….

    2. So if I have a bag of 100 Smarties and 3 of them will kill you, would you take one?

      1. Eventually, depending on how you and your 98 mates do.
        Seriously though, for a mega fit twenty-something with constant monitoring and the best medical care, it would be somewhere between one and zero deathly M&M surrogates.

    3. also australian reasearchers say that those who contract the disease follow the exact same path as those who have the flu.

    4. Too make it clear Max Verstappen is very afraid of the virus so he would be very opposed against this idea.

      There are cases were Healthy (bootcamp instructors) people were very sick and after recovery still had lung damage. Also there were also some deads of young and healthy people (16-24) So just get the virus if your healt is good it’s not a garanty you get off easy…….

  7. Dr. Marko should keep in mind his doctorate is in law, not medicine.

    The concept is sound, it builds on the principles of immunity and immunization. Contemplating it is insane, when the medical community doesn’t have a complete understanding of the corona virus behind COVID-19. When you don’t have all the facts to hand, human health and lives aren’t what you experiment with.

    Simple case in point – does Helmut Marko know the long-term repercussions of having survived this? Does it make one more susceptible to respiratory problems or illnesses? Maybe more vulnerable to cancer through exposure to gasoline fumes? Or even more sensitive to something as simple as pollen allergies? The truth is we know very little of the consequences of even surviving it, so contemplating exposing people – especially those in their prime – wilfully is a stupid idea.

    1. @phylyp: Can you imagine if they went through with this idiotic proposal and they accidentally killed Max?

      How would Marko spin that? “F1: where only the really strong survive”

      1. By showing the waiver Max signed?

    2. @phylyp Given that the shortness of breath symptom in COVID-19 is caused by collapsed alveoli, lung damage is definitely a thing for survivors of even moderate bouts of COVID-19. It’s not clear how long it takes to repair, or if complete healing from it can be expected. However, the probability of those catching it being worse off than if they had not attented it is high.

      Also, there are two strains of COVID-19, so catching it twice is plausible – even if it would likely be easier to throw off the virus on the second occasion (especially if one’s first experience is with the more common, stronger version).

  8. Pedro Andrade
    30th March 2020, 16:51

    The problem with much of the discourse around coronavirus centers on the percentage of infected people that die, with people only mentioning the “small” 1-5% as meaning low risk to the vast majority of the population. I will not go on about the (psychopathic) notion of dismissing the lives of around 5% of people. I just want to point out that in infected people across ALL age groups, the probability of admission to intensive care is around 20%. A 1 in 5 chance of landing in a hospital in the middle of a pandemic is not good odds, this is serious for everyone. I’m pretty sure Helmut Marko would not like for Max to have a 20% chance of landing in an ICU, even if he eventually recovers. If you get this disease, even with the high chance of surviving, there’s also a pretty serious chance you will not come out unscathed.

    1. According to Neil Ferguson’s research at the Imperial College, the chances of hospitalization for the 20 – 29 age group for symptomatic cases is estimated at 1.2%, and about 5% of the hospitalized would need ICU in this age group. This is consistent with what was reported from that young people cult in South Korea, where mass testing is estimated to have found perhaps more than 50% of infected. You can take this seriously without pulling misleading data out of… somewhere, you know.

      1. Pedro Andrade
        30th March 2020, 21:01

        I was basing my claim on US data from the CDC, but I went to check it again and it was a case of misreading a graph, their data falls close to the Imperial College % you mention. I stand corrected and thanks for pointing that out!

      2. Postreader That would still be a 20% chance of at least one of the drivers at camp (counting the Red Bull, AlphaTauri, reserve, development and junior drivers) needing some sort of hospital care. Granted that the chances of it being an ICU visit are low, but it would be a risk of at the very least, missing the first race of the return due to picking up some other bug in hospital. “My driver is missing the 2020 opener because of gastoenteritis” probably isn’t the explanation Helmut hoped to be giving to the press…

    2. the germans are testing 500.000 a week, with this kind of numbers you can get a more accurate picture. the mortality rate is be lower than 1% in germany and considering there is research that points to it being almost identical to the influenza the mortality rate might end up being less than 0.5%. The italians have made this very clear, everyone that dies with the virus counts towards the death toll even if they did not succumb to the disease.

      1. considering there is research that points to it being almost identical to the influenza the mortality rate might end up being less than 0.5%

        Statements like this have been repeatedly shown to be false. Twitter has started removing similar misinformation because it is dangerous. This user has repeatedly made these same false claims and such comments should be removed from the site.

        The virus is expected to be around 10 times deadlier than flu for those that contract it, but it’s also far more dangerous as it is a lot more contagious and there is no herd immunity or vaccines. Also, the flu does not shock load health systems or force many health workers into isolation, thereby increasing the mortality rate for any other condition contracted during the pandemic.

        Also, the mortality rate in Germany is trending towards 1% away from 0.5% as more of those already infected unfortunately succumb.

        1. @matt90 your comment is the one that is proven to be wrong and should be deleted. There is no immunity to the flu or the common cold, there are vaccines to the flu but even these are, according to studies unreliable and because you can’t build immunity you have to take the shot every year.

  9. For every great news article which boosts F1’s brand (creating a breathing aid prototype in just 10 days), someone instantly has to come along and ruin it (usually Helmut Marko)

  10. The fact F1 was there to begin with is bonkers, the fact people were having there conversationshould is wholly irresponsible.

    Where was he planning on going to make sure they got infected?

    1. First comment written on my phone didn’t go great.

  11. UM yeah ‘DR’ Marko should stop eating the red ones. If covid 19 is anything like pneumonia it can cause permanent damage to the lungs no matter the age or health of the person.
    If in fact he did have it earlier as he says it does not make him a hard man or a hero…just stupid.

  12. Can an employer force their staff members to be infected?? Not sure contracts cover decisions of an individual’s personal health, surely that’s borderline slavery?

    …and yes I know this is Marko we’re talking about, but lets say it did happen…

    1. #David

      Can an employer force their staff members to be infected??

      In the EU, Australia, GB, It would not only lead to fines for a failure in the employers duty of care but very possibly criminal charges.

      1. The employer would be under criminal charges if they try to force their staff to be infected. The staff can ignore any claim as the law would be on their side.

      2. @johnrkh @David Further noting that “UK and EU” covers all possible bases for charging Red Bull and Helmut Marko. It would be a blatant health and safety violation.

  13. It’s not just about ethics or feelings, doing things like this is just against the law in many countries.
    Unless it’s done as part of a well prepared medical experiment approved by law (Recently I have read an article about corona vaccine tests -whether some is effective at all- on volunteers are already considered. The interesting part of it is usually it takes some years to test and market a medicine, so human tests are likely first done after some years too. But of course as an engineering aspect relaxing testing conditions a bit and finding a decent vaccine or medicine likely would worth it.
    Unless it’s done on volunteers, medically well supported and approved by law, I can only consider it a dark, cash-is-king thought.
    Although by the numbers the Austria’s and Germany’s healthcare system is one of the most successful in treating the situation, so maybe they are not that far from law approved tests with some relaxed conditions.

  14. Yep, just someone else trying to keep their name in the paper. I’m also looking at you Pedro de la Rosa, Bernie Ecclestone, Flavio Briatore…

    Someone should check on Jacques Villeneuve: he’s usually the first to offer an opinion on anything. Hope you’re ok JV.

    1. Not George, the thing is, in the case of figures like de la Rosa, they were actually taking part in extended interviews – de la Rosa’s comments, for example, were asides from a two hour interview that he was invited to take part in – and the complaint shouldn’t be at de la Rosa, but at the journalists who chose to quote de la Rosa out of context in order to elicit the type of response you’ve fallen into.

      In quite a few of those instances, it’s not a case of the person randomly calling up a journalist in order to get themselves into the paper – more usually, it’s a case of the journalist approaching them and then finding something within the interview to create the headline to draw people in.

      As an aside, it seems that Jacques was recently making a few comments about the current situation in a recent interview – comments that most people would probably actually agree with. Firstly, he thought it was inevitable that the smaller teams were going to take a proportionally higher hit to their income from the cancellation of races, and secondly, when asked if he thought the Canadian GP would go ahead as planned, responded that he did not believe that would be the case.

      1. Jacques was recently making a few comments ( ) that most people would probably actually agree with.

        That would not be newsworthy then, anon ;)

      2. @anon Respect to Jacques for seeing sense.

  15. Absolutely disgusting, irresponsible and fuelled by greed. Clearly shows his priorities are not focussed on the health and safety of his employees.

  16. I’ve known Marko isn’t exactly a great guy, but my god, even suggesting something like this is disgusting! What kind of sociopath would think of this and think to himself, “man, this is a great idea, I should tell everyone!”

    I hope Marko gets fired for this.

  17. I’m fairly sure there would have been a lot of teams, both in f1 and other sports, that considered just this, early on, in order to protect their seasons, so I’m not sure why there is so much vitriol.

    After all some countries actually followed the herd immunity model for quite a while before suddenly backing away from that way too late.

    Some are still suggesting that “old people should sacrifice themselves for the good of the economy”.

    Marko was just the first one to mention it – bet he wasn’t the only one but he’ll be the one remembered for it.

  18. It could put a whole new meaning into ‘Red Bull gives you wings….’

  19. This is starting to make the mainstream news in the States. This never happens for F1.

  20. Reading the headline, it sounds as a idiotic idea now. But almost everyone might be too quick to judge here. Just a few weeks ago public opinion towards the virus was quite different. The world collectively decided not to learn from China and only at the end of februari Italy went into lockdown. And even then many did not take it seriously. I plead guilty myself. Only after hearing the sound bites of medical staff crying in Bergamo reality sank in (for me that is). So if you would have asked me in februari, I might have considered Marko’s idea as a plausible option. I can’t read it in the interview, did Marko put the idea forward before he got sick himself?

    1. @baasbas No, I think it was Helmut getting ill and recovering that gave him the idea. If someone like him (who on the face of it, is squarely in the “vulnerable” category for this virus) can throw it off and possibly gain immunity, surely his much younger drivers could do so – he assumed.

  21. Didn’t like Marko before, and now I just despise him to the core. Not only stupid but also dangerous and irresponsible.

  22. The Red Bull and AlphaTauri drivers have already been to a corona camp. It was called the Australian Grand Prix. Sending them to another one is surely redundant? At least nobody has to worry about what culinary obscenities would be on the table when the police broke in. (There was a corona camp – or perhaps “party” would be a more accurate term in that case – of 25 people in Derby that was broken up by police the day before Marko said this. Part of its infamy was that the table included peach chicken, grape-decorated tangerines and what looked suspiciously like water-based vomit in the middle of the table).

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