Formula One hasn’t been afraid of undertaking widespread COVID-19 testing when it resumed the 2020 season—and for the most part, numbers have been good, with only a handful of drivers and team personnel turning up positive each week. But now, after the Russian Grand Prix, cases have reached an all-time high in the F1 paddock.
Now, before you worry too much, F1 has only barely graced the double-digits. Out of 1,822 people tested, 10 came back positive between September 25 and October 1, 2020. But that’s still far fewer people tested than normal (for European races, over 3,000 personnel have been in attendance and tested), and it’s also F1's highest rate of positivity yet recorded.
In the week before the Russian GP, seven other people came back positive.
While the Russian GP saw the most fans at an F1 race yet this season when it let about 30,000 people through the gate, but F1 has maintained that fans had nothing to do with it. F1 has implemented a fairly strict “bubble,” which means that the only people most team personnel can interact with are the other team personnel who are attending a race. And while the average fan normally doesn’t have much of a chance to interact with anyone in the paddock, the FIA has kept all but the most essential folks out.
Russia, though, is the first country F1 has visited this year that doesn’t strictly enforce social distancing or mask wearing protocols. F1 has been pretty tight-lipped about what that means and how that could have potentially impacted positivity rates. But Haas driver Romain Grosjean opened up about feeling unsafe in the country:
In Russia, wearing a mask isn’t mandatory. Waiters do but don’t cover their noses. There are many fans at the hotel, so we sometimes find ourselves sharing an elevator with people from outside the F1 bubble.
That’s not something I’m super comfortable with. I don’t fear contracting the coronavirus for my health, I just don’t want to have it because I wouldn’t be allowed to go racing, I wouldn’t be allowed to do my job.
I am not happy with the safety measures implemented at the hotel.
It’s entirely possible that personnel contracted COVID-19 from people outside the bubble in Russia. If that’s the case, positivity numbers will likely decline ahead of next week’s Eifel Grand Prix at the Nürburgring as impacted personnel will be well isolated.
I do think it’s important to note, though, that cases were also on the rise the week before the Russian Grand Prix. Of 3,256 tests conducted, seven were positive. While that’s not ton, it was still the highest rate recorded at the time. We'll have to see if next week's case count increases in order to determine if the virus has really sunk its teeth into the F1 paddock.