Senior figures in Formula One believe the sport would be right to once more put its participants first if it had to postpone or cancel the Vietnam Grand Prix as it did on Wednesday with the Chinese GP. The Shanghai race was postponed because of the coronavirus outbreak and although F1 chiefs hope the Hanoi showpiece will take place as scheduled on 5 April, a similar outcome could occur if the threat increases.
After the Chinese meeting was called off focus immediately turned on to neighbouring Vietnam, which shares a land border with China. Speaking at the launch of his team’s new car, the MCL35, at the team headquarters, McLaren’s chief executive, Zak Brown, insisted that personnel safety was paramount and F1 would respect that.
“We are going to monitor the situation,” he said. “We would never do anything that puts our people at risk and I don’t believe that F1 would.”
The team’s 20-year-old British driver Lando Norris echoed his sentiments. “I am not so happy we can’t go to China because of the coronavirus,” he said. “But safety rises above all other things – money, sponsors and everything. It is a shame but all the decisions that have been made were made for the right reasons.”
Norris, who said he has recently driven the Vietnam circuit on a simulator, accepted that if the race had to be pulled it would be correct to do so. “I would love to go there,” he said. “If we don’t get the chance to then obviously I won’t be so happy but that’s how it is.”
The Hanoi race is due to be the first time F1 has held a meeting in Vietnam but with the outbreak still spreading it remains in doubt. On Thursday the Vietnamese authorities placed more than 10,000 people in the Son Loi farming region under quarantine after six new cases of the virus were discovered there. Son Loi is approximately 25 miles from Hanoi and this is the first mass quarantine imposed outside China since the outbreak began. Sixteen people have been infected with the virus in Vietnam and it has now claimed more than 1,350 lives worldwide.
The threat is being taken very seriously in the country. The overland border crossing with China has been closed, with flights suspended. The government has also cancelled mass gatherings such as festivals across the country. Certain public walking zones in Hanoi where locals and tourists gather have also been closed.
Brown maintained that the potential threat was of greater import than F1. “First and foremost it is a terrible situation for the world,” he said. “So hopefully it is resolved because other things such as sport don’t matter when it comes to situations like this.” He also confirmed that the team would not expect their personnel to put themselves at any risk: “We will have to deal with the situation as it unfolds but we would never put any McLaren employee in an uncomfortable situation.”
Norris was eager to get to grips with the new car in testing, which begins in Barcelona next Wednesday. Last season he made an accomplished F1 debut, finishing in the points in 11 races, with best finishes of sixth place in Bahrain and Austria, and ending 11th in the drivers’ championship. Alongside Carlos Sainz Jr he helped McLaren take fourth in the championship, their best finish since 2012.
“There are a lot of things I had to learn last year but the biggest would be the time and effort you have to put in to improve on things,” Norris said. “To work on problems and limitations and weaknesses for myself. Time and effort of self improvement is one of the biggest things that I take from last year.”