By Christian Sylt
Just a day after F1 announced Silverstone would stage two, back-to-back British Grand Prix in August, the father of world champion Lewis Hamilton’s has told ITV News that all motorsport should be put on hold until the world is clear of coronavirus.
Anthony Hamilton says all sport should take a back seat until the NHS and all key workers also have an opportunity to enjoy it.
The disease put the brakes on the F1 season in March when a member of the McLaren team tested positive for Covid-19. Since then it has infected 6.3 million people in 213 countries and caused 27,266 deaths last week alone. Despite this, F1 plans to get its season underway on 5 July with the Austrian Grand Prix.
"We should have the patience and respect to say let's wait till the number of new coronavirus cases is down to zero so the key workers can go home, relax and they too can enjoy watching sport," Hamilton told ITV News. "I understand that we have to get back to business as soon as possible, but it should be as safe as possible and essential business only.
"Motorsport is a global sport with a global fan base. Now is not the time to be turning our backs on those who cannot take part, or come and watch. Now is the time for us to wait, be patient and support. If we don't have fans, we don't have a sport and right now our fans are fighting on the frontline saving the lives of our fans.
"Although with each day things are improving and the number of virus-related deaths is falling, the enemy is not yet defeated. This is still a very clear and ever present threat to our lives and society so what is this rush back to motorsport?"
Hamilton Jr. is the second-most successful driver in F1 history, and is expected to equal German legend Michael Schumacher's record of seven titles this year. However, his father says "it would make me feel extremely disingenuous to celebrate watching Lewis racing, or celebrating on the podium. I wouldn't particularly want to be watching the TV and cheering while thousands of people are dying from a virus."
There will be no spectators at the races and F1's personnel will be protected by a raft of measures. The protocols include special charter flights to bring staff in and regular tests throughout the race weekend. "One day it may be us who need saving," says Hamilton. "What would we think then about a rush back to sport?"
A number of international competitions have swerved around this obstacle by scrapping their 2020 events altogether. Wimbledon isn't taking place this year whilst the Tokyo Olympics and Uefa European Championships are both planned to be held in 2021.
Hamilton is concerned that rushing to resume sport could have "dire consequences" and his view is likely to be shared by many across sport. It doesn't just apply to F1; Lewis' younger brother Nic has cerebral palsy and in 2015 became the first disabled driver to race in the British Touring Car Championship which is on track to start its season in August.
The spanner in the works is that in order to ensure drivers and personnel are free of the virus they need to be tested repeatedly whilst being held in quarantine for several days before every race. This is because of the time it takes for the virus to be detected.
Leading virologist Marc van Ranst told to ITV News, when talking about the plan to restart the Premier League: "If you get your infection during the day, you will not be able to diagnose it in the evening. It takes a while for the virus to take hold and be detectable. It is detectable in your throat after three days before you develop symptoms, but it won’t be detectable in a couple of hours after being infected."
To ensure that no one slips through the net, personnel would need to be tested at the start and end of a three-day period and anyone who is negative would be allowed to attend the race whereas anyone who tests positive would not.
Crucially, they would need to be in isolation for the three-day period because if they were in contact with other people during that time they could pick up the virus from them. It is a particularly high hurdle for F1 as it hopes to hold as many as 18 races around the world this year despite its delayed start.
Hamilton says he would prefer F1 and motorsport in general to wait at the lights until the virus is in its rear view mirror. "Life and sport are important and are for everyone so we should be respecting this a bit more by being patient. The good days will return, but rushing back will only make it worse."