Covid Brings One Of F1’s Longest Starting Streaks To An End

Another driver in the F1 paddock tested positive for Covid-19, bringing his 247-start streak to an end

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A Formula 1 race starts with the Aston martin DBX medical car at the rear
The F1 medical car always starts each race at the back of the grid
Photo: Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team

Seven drivers on the current Formula 1 grid have tested positive for Covid-19 over the past 18 months. Kimi Räikkönen was the latest when he was forced to sit out the Dutch and Italian Grands Prix in September.

The pandemic has also swept its way through other team members in the paddock, most recently when McLaren CEO Zak Brown and two other members of the UK-based team tested positive ahead of this year’s British Grand Prix at Silverstone.

Now, the sport is facing further disruption as the team responsible for its medical car have tested positive for the virus.

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Medical car driver Alan van der Merwe and medical delegate Ian Roberts have been forced to sit out the Turkish Grand Prix this weekend after testing positive for the novel coronavirus. At the race, the duo will be replaced by Formula E’s safety car driver Bruno Correia and medical delegate Dr. Bruno Franceschini.

Alan van der Merwe is a driver that only shoots to the public eye when something horrible happens, as he explained in an interview with F1 in 2017.

“We’ll be most visible if we make a mistake – so the biggest part of the job is being as anonymous as possible,” he said.

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Romain Grosjean is lead away from a crash by the F1 medical team
Medics were quickly on the scene following Romain Grosjean’s crash last year
Photo: HAMAD I MOHAMMED (Getty Images)

In each event, the medical car lines up at the back of the grid and sets off behind the teams once the lights go out. It’s for this reason that van der Merwe and Roberts were on the scene so quickly following Romain Grosjean’s horrific crash at the the Bahrain Grand Prix last year.

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After completing the first lap, van der Merwe and the medical car return to the pit where they are on standby for the remainder of the race.

Van der Merwe isn’t a trained doctor or paramedic. In fact, he was previously a racing driver and clinched the championship in British Formula 3. Because of this, he is always joined in the car by Roberts, who controls the medical response to any F1 incident.

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The duo have operated the F1 medical car since 2009, so van der Merwe has now driven across the starting line on 247 Grands Prix. This impressive number puts him in third place on the list of most consecutive F1 starts.

His figure is just behind Lewis Hamilton, who, up until he tested positive for Covid-19 in 2020, had crossed the start line at 265 Grands Prix between 2007 and 2020.

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Both these drivers are, however, dwarfed by the number of starts F1 safety car driver Bernd Maylander has notched up. Having started every race since the 2002 US Grand Prix, Maylander has consecutively started a whopping 355 F1 races.