‘Let us judge if we can race with Covid’, some drivers urge

2022 Bahrain Grand Prix

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Formula 1 drivers Sergio Perez, Valtteri Bottas and Carlos Sainz Jnr believe drivers should be given more freedom to participate in races if they test positive for Covid-19.

Current restrictions enforced by F1 demand that any member of the paddock who returns a positive Covid test must isolate until they return a negative test.

Two drivers tested positive for the coronavirus in a one-week period leading up the to opening round of the season. McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo missed the entire second pre-season test after falling ill with the virus and admitting he did not feel well enough to drive. Aston Martin driver Sebastian Vettel was later forced to miss this weekend’s race after returning a positive test earlier, being replaced by Nico Hulkenberg.

However Perez – who missed two races at Silverstone in 2020 after testing positive for Covid – believes drivers should be allowed to race even if they are confirmed to be positive with the virus, provided they feel well enough to compete safely.

“I think Covid has evolved so much that I think the best judge will be ourselves to know,” said Perez. “Like Daniel said, probably he wouldn’t have been able to race, but maybe there are other people, other drivers that get Covid and feel okay.”

After the international rollout of vaccination programmes last year and many nations such as the United Kingdom completely lifting measures designed to prevent the spread of the virus, Perez believes F1’s approach is at odds with many places around the world.

“You see with some countries as well, it feels like the world is fully open, but Formula 1 is still very restrictive with the Covid thing,” he said. “So I think we should leave it up to the driver to decide.

“I think we all have raced once in our lives while feeling really bad health-wise and we are the judges to say, ‘okay, we can race the way we are at the moment’, or we can simply not. So if the driver feels comfortable to race like that, I wouldn’t think it’s a problem. The world seems to have moved up from it.”

Carlos Sainz Jnr said the nature of Formula 1 makes it more plausible for its competitors to compete with Covid safely compared to other sports.

“If there is a sport that I think you can compete without spreading the virus too much or at least zero, I think it is Formula 1,” said Sainz. “I think you could do all the meetings back in your hotel room, arrive to the paddock 15 minutes before the session with your suit and your helmet on, jump in the car and go.”

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Sainz says drivers should be allowed to make the call over whether or not to race with the virus, rather than being compelled to miss races just because they test positive.

“Personally, I feel like if I get Covid and you’re in the middle of a championship fight or very important thing, I would struggle to accept missing a race if I’m feeling well and I’m feeling perfectly fit,” Sainz said.

“If I’m feeling bad, I would be the first one to raise my hand and say ‘I cannot race’ and the third driver needs to jump in. I think it’s an interesting case that we should investigate because I think our sport gives us that opportunity to maybe be a bit more protected and less spread. And yes, I think it should be up for the driver to decide.”

Valtteri Bottas echoed his colleagues’ views that drivers should have the power to race if positive, but only under carefully controlled measures.

“I also feel like it should be a call for the driver,” he said. “I would vote for yes, it should be allowed, but only in a way that it can be made sure that there’s no risk of spreading it further.

“I think maybe then for someone who has Covid, there should be definitely an extra protocol to make sure no other team member gets affected, because obviously with every person, the symptoms can be different – for some, less risky, for some more risky. So I think that’s the question mark.”

Despite agreeing that there should be more freedom for drivers, Bottas admits he is “uncomfortable” with how drivers are coming into closer contact with fans in the paddock who are not wearing masks and could potentially be contagious.

“I think it’s good to see that we’re starting to, in a way, live with it, but obviously it’s still around, and I think in the end it’s a lot about common sense,” he explained.

“The only concern for me, like today, arriving at the paddock and there was quite a bit of fans who were taking selfies and none of them wear a mask and they get pretty close. So then I feel uncomfortable. So for sure I keep my distance, but it’s a lot of common sense. In the end, we need to live with it.”

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2022 Bahrain Grand Prix

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Author information

Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...
Claire Cottingham
Claire has worked in motorsport for much of her career, covering a broad mix of championships including Formula One, Formula E, the BTCC, British...

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33 comments on “‘Let us judge if we can race with Covid’, some drivers urge”

  1. Decent ideas.

    1. Not an F1 decision. They visit many countries so whatever the rules are in that country are what counts. Could do this in UK as aligned to government rules but other countries the drivers would legally have to isolate and couldn’t be at a public event.

  2. Lets see… you want to put thousands at risk because you want to race? Even that suggestion alone tells me they are not responsible enough to have that choice.

    1. How would they be putting thousands at risk? Get real, please.

      1. @chrisr1718, how about you get real and use your head? Do you know how many people they work with, even when everything is going smoothly? What happens when you need to sneeze? what happens when you crash? What if you win and need to go onto the podium? How are they going to interview? There is so much more than just get in 15min before and drive. Who would trust these drivers to isolate when they are on the grounds. It’s an absolute madness.

        1. I’ve never met someone who suffered from omicron. I’ve had it twice. It’s like a very weak cold. It’s been hears, how much longer do you want to live in a prison? There are measures one can take when being ill. Being put in a dungeon is not necessarily the smartest approach. It’s not a plague…

    2. @ivan-vinitskyy seeing like the UK now doesn’t even enforce quarantine if you are vaccinated and Covid positive, letting them race is not that far fetched. I would think that almost all drivers are triple vaccinated by now.

      1. While there is no longer legal enforcement of quarantine in England, the official advice is still to stay at home if you can and avoid contact with other people, and you shout not go to work if you can’t work remotely. So choosing to go motor racing would still be in contravention of official government advice.

  3. Yeah nice on guys. You judge whether it you can race or not and don’t worry about the marshals, medical staff, support staff and any of their families in countries where they may or may not have access to modern medical care.

    As long as you judge you’re OK to race, that’s the main thing. 🤦

    1. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
      18th March 2022, 11:43

      @grandmasterorge +1 Drivers will do anything to avoid missing a race – the last person to decide if they are fit for a race is the driver.

    2. Why not remove the worse race result from the driver championship but keep all for WCC. With seasons getting more and more races, things outside of driver control can happen. This system already takes place in other sports with good and accepted results.

      This allows drivers to be sick, attend funeral or whatever could pop up during the season. It also gives a chance for testing new drivers during the season without having too big influence on the final results.

      1. That still will not change their perceptions. Drivers will never be happy to miss a race no matter the circumstances. Webber drove in something like 4 races with a broken shoulder and made sure those inside his circle wouldn’t tell even the team bosses.

    3. Everytime these ultra-privileged kids open their mouths to share how small their bubble is, i am reminded that they have very little in common with the rest the world.

      Man, they only make me miss the normalcy of someone like Giovinnazzi even more.

    4. Jelle van der Meer (@)
      18th March 2022, 17:20

      Bit of a foolish and one sided anti comment.

      FIA mandates that everyone in paddock is vaccinated so that drastically reduces any serious health risk if they would get infected. Then Corona mutated luckily to a more contagious but less sick making version so the majority of people now infected experience less than a common cold not even a fever.
      The far majority of those getting serious ill from Omicron are either not vaccinated or for whatever reason have a compromised immune system.

      Drivers are not in contact with thousands of people and anyone attending, a marshal, official or team member is far more likely to get infected with Omicron anywhere else than F1 paddock.
      Also it is far more likely a marshal, official, reported, team member or other staff will infect a driver than a driver infect any of those people.

      Separately obviously if a driver is tested positives (test are no longer mandatory only in case of illness signs) contact with that driver would be reduced to a minimal. Next to that drivers wear an ultimate mask in the form of an all covering helmet.

      The whole world is opening up, restrictions are lifted and majority is vaccinated – time to move on and stop being afraight of the virus – so indeed if FIA medical team indicates a driver is fit to race let him race Covid or not.

    5. Exactly @grandmasterorge. They know all there is to know about being racing drivers. Not about virusses and the risks/dangers of them.

      When Perez mentions “I think Covid has evolved so much that I think the best judge will be ourselves to know,” he just shows that he actually doesn’t know that much and should not be the one to decide about it.

  4. So… They want the drivers to be able to decide whether they should be allowed to go to the track, participate in the event, infect others around them and potentially make them seriously ill?

    Sounds like a good idea…

    1. While they are at it, they should remove the pit lane speed limits and let the drivers judge how fast they should go in the pits, as well as stopping the officials from being able to get involved if they think they are driving too fast under yellows/VSC/SC etc. The drivers are the best ones to decide if they are behaving safely, and never do unsafe things to improve their position in the race.

  5. Man, it’s hard for me to get behind this. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and I respect that and them as people, but I hope this isn’t allowed. Someone please correct me if I’m wrong, but don’t drivers need assistance just to get into the cars? Aren’t people in close contact with drivers basically the whole time they’re in the car until the parade lap starts? Plenty of people have gotten sick, even with the vaccine. All it takes is one person to contract it without symptoms and spread it. I’d hate for a family member to pass if an engineer accidentally brought it home without knowing because a driver chose to race while positive. I could be wrong in what I’ve said, as I’m not employed in the health or motorsport industry, but I think it’s best we all just keep being as safe as possible. Now obviously everyone’s idea of safe is different, but not allowing the drivers to race while positive is still a good idea to me.

  6. A lot of scared people here thinking its still 2020. We gonna go around deciding championships by luck for the next 30 years? It ain’t going away, and the faster were all exposed to it regularly, the faster it becomes part of the harmless background illnesses.

    1. It ain’t going away, and the faster were all exposed to it regularly, the faster it becomes part of the harmless background illnesses.

      By killing those for whom it is not harmless…

      Seriously, you are advocating putting people’s lives at risk. My brother in law, a fit and healthy guy, contracted COVID late last year, and ended up in hospital. He was given a 20% chance of survival and was very lucky to pull through, but is not longer fit and healthy and likely never will be.

      This is not just cold or a seasonal flu. Asking those who are infectious to stay away from people is not an unreasonable request when the consequences of not doing so could be deaths.

      That said, I also don’t think it unreasonable to ask people with colds to stay away from others while infectious. I can’t stand people who go into the office with a cold and spread it around everyone, making them all feel terrible (as well as reducing everyone’s work output). Just stay home for a day or 2 and keep your germs to yourself! Admittedly, this should also be accompanied by employers paying decent sick pay to allow this (as it would actually benefit them because the whole office wouldn’t get sick so would do far more work than that one employee).

      1. @drmouse

        We’ve always accepted that people die from the flu. Covid is not going away.

        We’re lucky that omicron is much less dangerous and that gives us the opportunity to treat it like a bad flu.

        The only alternative is to make all of this permanent.

    2. This is demonstrably false.

  7. The very nature of highly competitive athletes screams they are not unbiases observers of their own condition and will do everything they can to compete at every chance they get regardless of the potential impact to themselves or others. It is part of why they are where they are. They are such fierce competitors that they are able to put the drive to compete and win over everything else. So I for one don’t believe for a second that the drivers would be able to determine on their own if they should be racing if they are ill.

    In American sports, the analog to this situation is in American Football and concussions. If a player exhibits any signs of a concussion they must be examined by a doctor who is independent of the league or teams. This doctor is the only person who can clear a player to return to competition once they exhibit signs of concussions because all to often the player was driven to compete regardless of the harm they may cause themselves or others, the teams were driven by having their key players play and the league was driven by wanting to minimize the seriousness of the concussion problem in the NFL.

    I suspect something similar could happen in F1. If an independent doctor cleared the driver to drive, then they would be able to compete. But leaving it up to the athletes themselves is totally unrealistic and will lead to potentially much larger problems.

  8. No. Just as an example to the world. You’ve got Covid, you’re still able to make someone else catch it, even if are careful. It’s unfortunate, but it’s like having chicken pox… Tough luck.

    1. Yes, I do feel that even if the latest variants are much less dangerous, people are generally vaccinated or have natural immunity now, it’s still irresponsible to be going about in public knowing you have an infectious disease, which can potentially be deadly to people at risk. The same would be true if you knowingly had a bit of flu (or, as you say, chicken pox) and still went to work.

  9. We’ve seen drivers race with the flu and food poisoning before, so if they felt fit and, most importantly, there was a way for them to compete without them risking spreading it to others, then why not?

    Trouble is, I seriously doubt there is a way. These guys can’t even buckle their own seatbelts up without outside assistance. There’s no way they’d be able to navigate a full race weekend without risking the rest of their team. Even if we ignore the possibility of serious illness (which hasn’t gone away), it’s still deeply impractical for a team to put its staff at risk of sickness, particularly with all the travelling they need to do and the restrictions that still exist in many countries.

  10. RandomMallard
    18th March 2022, 17:45

    I don’t think this is currently possible. Regardless of F1’s rules, a lot of this hinges on what different countries do and don’t allow. The vast majority of the ones F1 visit, as far as I’m aware (although I don’t know for certain), still require you to isolate for a positive test. And granting high level sportspeople exemptions to the clearest of clear-cut rules apparently isn’t very popular. Ask Novak Djokovic…

    And then as @jackysteeg points out above, the argument of just let them turn up for the race does kind of fall apart once they get to the track. The sheer number of people who operationally have to be there makes the whole thing unpractical imo. Because even if the driver can race with minimal contact, all it takes is them to pass it on to one crew member and then it suddenly goes through the whole race team due to the nature of their job, and no one is left to prepare the car.

    And then there’s the risk it could pose to the driver themselves in the event of an accident. You can train marshalls/medics/etc to help anyone and everyone when they need it, but human instinct would likely still make them think “should I really get this close to someone who I know is positive?”. And if they hesitate, even for a few seconds, that can make all the difference when dealing with a critical scenario.

    I can absolutely see why some drivers may want to race no matter what; they’re professional athletes and they’re there to compete. But with the circumstances as they are at the minute, I don’t think now is the right moment to make that move yet.

  11. I have no real opinion if this is danegrous or not, but I love seeing reserve drivers getting some track action.

  12. The risk the virus poses to others is something the person who tests positive can’t control. There were some suggestions that Vettel was standing next to Riccardo in the last pictures before Daniel tested positive. Imagine if the driver who is sick gets into an accident and then an old martial or a F1 medical personnel has to attend to that driver. Would not be a good look.

  13. Haha. Good luck with that in a sport that is trying to be as PC as possible. I admire that you think with your heads, but still, it seems funny to me

  14. I tend to agree with drivers, although I don’t underestimate the virus, having had breathing issues march 2020.

  15. Already should have been that way long ago. There is no reason for someone with Covid to not drive of he is okay. The only thing i consider important is that a doctor confirms it.

  16. Fair point. They are in a car and not, let’s face it, for various reasons not on a football pitch, constantly spitting around.

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