Balancing the risk of a potential coronavirus infection within a team environment will be the biggest challenge when the 2020 Formula 1 season starts, according to Renault boss Cyril Abiteboul.

The delayed 2020 F1 season will finally get underway next weekend with the Austrian Grand Prix on July 5, the first of eight European grands prix that will be held behind closed doors.

F1 will create a “biosphere” environment in order to minimise the risk of spreading the coronavirus throughout the paddock, and will implement a raft of strict hygiene protocols to ensure events can go ahead safely.

Measures will include extensive testing for the limited personnel present at races, medical support being provided for each team, an on-site test facility for rapid response, and the use of face masks and other PPE.

Social distancing will be observed where possible, and F1’s managing director of motorsports Ross Brawn says “families and sub-families” will be created within each team to limit contract between staff as much as possible.

Brawn recently told the BBC that the health and safety protocols put in place mean the likelihood of a positive test is “very low”, though he conceded a driver could be forced to miss part of a race weekend if one of his mechanics tested positive for COVID-19.

Speaking during a press conference with select media including Crash.net on Friday, Renault F1 team principal Abiteboul said a “fluid exchange” continues to be had between the FIA, teams and F1 on the matter and added he was confident in the plans.

Asked by Crash.net what he feels will be the biggest challenge teams will face with the new protocols, Abiteboul replied: “It’s a balance between the risk, the practicability and the necessity of the operation - that balance is difficult to find.

“I think the biggest challenge would be in the implementation between the operational group and sub-group [within each team].

“There is a risk that one single person in the team [could become infected] and that means that the whole team is out for at least the time of the test.

“And because the test can take a full day, 24 hours, we can see that if a positive case is happening on a Saturday morning, you are not going to qualify, and you are not going to participate in the race.

“We still need to have a bit of a discussion on how to balance risk and some common sense and participation within the sport, although I completely understand and praise the work that has been done between the FIA and the teams.”

Speaking in the same media call, Renault driver Esteban Ocon explained he has changed his day-to-day habits “massively” to reduce the risk of infection.

“I’m changing everything,” the Frenchman said. “There is not one single thing that I do the same in my life.

“Now when I travel, or as soon as I go out to get some food at the supermarket, everything is different. It would be crazy to have waited so long and to have prepared that much and arrive and be positive at the test.

"I’m definitely massively careful. Risk zero doesn’t exist unfortunately but you can take some out if you are careful.”

Teammate Daniel Ricciardo said he will have to change his approach of being “a hugger” but reckons teams will devise new ways of interacting amid the safety procedures.

“I got to keep my distance but I’m sure we’ll find some new ways to embrace each other, especially after a good result,” he added.

“We will do what we can to keep this thing away and keep it out of the paddock.”

 

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