This year’s Bahrain Grand Prix will have an unfortunate place in Formula 1 history as the sport’s first spectator-free event.
Days after suspending ticket sales for the second round of the season at the Sakhir International Circuit on March 19-22, the Gulf kingdom has now announced that it will take place behind closed doors as a response to the escalating COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic.
“In consultation with our international partners and the Kingdom’s national health Taskforce, Bahrain has made the decision to hold this year’s Bahrain Grand Prix as a participants-only event,” a statement reads.
“As an F1 host nation, balancing the welfare of supporters and racegoers is a tremendous responsibility.
“Given the continued spread of COVID-19 globally, convening a major sporting event, which is open to the public and allows thousands of international travellers and local fans to interact in close proximity would not be the right thing to do at the present time.
“But to ensure that neither the sport, nor its global supporter base, is unduly impacted, the race weekend itself will still go ahead as a televised event.”
At the time of publishing, Bahrain has had 85 confirmed cases of COVID-19. This puts the country at a similar rate of infection per head of population as China, where the virus originated, but well below the infection rates in the likes of South Korea, Italy and nearby Iran.
The country imposed strict measures to limit the spread of the virus over recent weeks, including suspending flights to and from Lebanon, Iran and Dubai, as well as a two-week shutdown of all schools and universities.
“Bahrain’s own early actions to prevent, identify and isolate cases of individuals with COVID-19 has been extremely successful to date,” the statement added.
“The approach has involved rapid, proactive measures, identifying those affected by the virus, of which the overwhelming majority of cases relate to those travelling into the country by air.
“Aggressive social distancing measures have further increased the effectiveness of preventing the virus’ spread, something that would clearly be near impossible to maintain were the race to have proceeded as originally planned.
“We know how disappointed many will be by this news, especially for those planning to travel to the event, which has become a cornerstone event of the international F1 calendar, but safety has to remain our utmost priority.”
The Bahrain government’s decision came just hours after the Italian government imposed strict quarantine measures and travel restrictions across fifteen northern provinces, including the Emilia-Romagna region where Scuderia Ferrari and Scuderia AlphaTauri teams are headquartered.
Representatives from both teams will face strict immigration checks upon their arrival into Australia, which hosts the opening Grand Prix of the 2020 season this weekend.
Image via Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team