Formula 1 boss Ross Brawn has revealed that a translator triggered the most significant COVID-19 outbreak that the sport had to deal with this year.
Although Brawn didn’t specify the event, it’s understood that the “worst cluster” occurred at the Russian GP at Sochi in September.
The F1 organisation and the FIA introduced strict protocols for the start of the season in Austria, including a regime that saw extensive COVID-19 testing on race weekends that involved both the travelling regulars and local officials and staff at the venues.
Over 78,000 tests were conducted under FIA jurisdiction at the 17 events, and they produced just 78 positive tests, although the numbers don’t include the obligatory testing between races that took place away from the venues.
Sergio Perez, Lance Stroll and Lewis Hamilton were all obliged to miss races after testing positive, representing a much higher percentage than was seen in the sport’s overall population.
Over 1300 people working for the FIA, F1, the teams and the media travelled to each race, not counting the F2, F3 and Porsche Supercup teams seen at some events.
Brawn highlighted the relatively high percentage of drivers who were infected by COVID and revealed how a translator caused the biggest outbreak.
“It was slightly over one in 1000,” Brawn told the F1 Podcast. “And it’s fascinating to look at those cases, because we had three drivers, which is kind of disproportionate out of 20 drivers. And that’s something you’ve got to think about.
“Of those 78 that were positive, quite a number with track workers, or people associated with the country we were in.
“I think the worst outbreak cluster we had was when a translator caught us out in one of the countries, because he was working with a group of people, translating for them.
“Then of course he came into contact with them, and we suddenly had a fierce little cluster, but we quickly got on to that.
“So very few outbreaks, I have to say, amongst the teams. The numbers within the teams of mechanics, engineers, etc, was very low. Interesting exercise to study the data, and I know some of the most diligent people in F1 got caught out. I don’t know where it came from.”
Brawn was full of praise for the way the sport coped with the pandemic.
“I think it’s a brilliant example of how F1 in times of crisis pulls together as a complete family,” Brawn said. “We spend most of our lives, or at least I did when I was competing, in trying to destroy each other.
“And then we get faced with a situation like this, and F1 comes together and excels. I’m just really proud of what everyone was able to do this year, because it seemed an almost impossible task. When I look at how things were when we started this adventure, I’m really proud.”
Brawn admitted that when the revised season was planned around the new COVID protocols there were many unknowns.
“Well, I think the thing that none of us really understood is what would happen if we started to get an outbreak, how it would be managed, could we control it could we limit it?,” he said.
“And none of us know enough about the dynamics of this disease, and how it spreads. The rudimentaries are known, but the subtleties aren’t known. I mean, how long do you need to be in the company of an infected person, and what you need to do around them to become infected yourself?
“So all those things were uncertain, we simply didn’t know how it would develop. And I think when we had our first positive cases, that was the anxious time to know whether they could just be limited on whether the systems and protocols we put in place would be sufficient to contain the outbreaks, which did prove to be the case.
“I think everyone was pretty diligent in F1. I think we had to be on our guard as we progressed, because it was easy to get complacent, and easy to drop your guard.”
Although F1 understands the coronavirus situation much better now, Brawn confirmed that the COVID protocols will be applied again in 2021.
“We’re not going to go into next year with a switch turned. We’re going to have to to carry on, and learn from what we’ve learned this year, and be as diligent, because the vaccines aren’t going to become effective until sometime during the year, in terms of numbers.
“So we’re going to need to continue testing. The testing regime may change, the methodology may change, but we’re going to have another year undoubtedly of having to be super diligent, and apply the protocols again.”
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