Red Bull’s Sergio Perez has led calls for Formula 1 drivers themselves to decide whether or not they can compete after testing positive for COVID-19.
The 2022 F1 season started with two high-profile COVID cases, McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo missing the second pre-season test in Bahrain and Sebastian Vettel already ruled out of the season-opening grand prix there.
That raised questions about whether it’s time for F1 to further relax its COVID-19 protocols.
For 2022, F1 has reversed its protocols, and grand prix attendees will no longer have to test at regular intervals, but simply need to be vaccinated.
Masks remain mandatory indoors, as well as when mingling with people who aren’t in their bubble outside of scheduled events.
The tests are still available on the site, but are now only “highly recommended” rather than required. Teams are still conducting their own tests and anyone with a positive COVID-19 test will not be able to enter the circuit.
Ricciardo admitted he was in a “pretty tough place” when he got COVID last week and said he would have “struggled” to compete if the Bahrain GP was a week ago.
Speaking ahead of the Bahrain season opener, several drivers argued that now is the time to let the drivers decide whether they should be able to race while testing positive for COVID.
“COVID has evolved so much, you know, the best judge will be ourselves,” Pérez said.
“He [Ricciardo] I wouldn’t be able to run, but maybe there are other people, other drivers who get COVID and feel fine.
“You see, with some countries, it seems that the world is completely open, but Formula 1 is still very restrictive with the COVID issue.
“We should let the drivers decide. I think we have all run at some point feeling very bad, in terms of health.
“We are the judges to say that we can run as we are at the moment or we just can’t. If the driver feels comfortable to race like this, I don’t think it will be a problem. The world seems to have moved away from that.”
Ricciardo suggested drivers affected by COVID should take a fitness test to determine if they are fit to compete.
New Alfa Romeo signing Valtteri Bottas agreed but highlighted the risk of spreading the infection.
“I would vote yes. [drivers] should be allowed [to race]but only in a way where there is no risk of it spreading further.
“So I think maybe if they have COVID, there should be additional protocols, making sure other team members aren’t affected.”
Lewis Hamilton had one of the highest profile COVID absences when he had to miss the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix after contracting the virus once that year’s title was already sealed.
He made it clear that he would not have been well enough to compete even if he had been allowed, noting that he “barely survived” the following Abu Dhabi GP when he returned to action a week later with a negative test result.
“There was no way he could have run when he had it. I was very, very sick.
“It’s strange that obviously the world is getting more and more used to having it and you see it less in the news. I don’t actually see any of that in the news anymore, but it’s still all around us and I think we still need to take precautions, continue to wear masks, continue to keep ourselves safe and keep others safe.
“You know, if we all stop wearing our masks and everyone in the garage gets them, everyone is going to get sick and it will affect people differently. Some people don’t even know they have it and some people get really sick. So it’s best to just not take the risk.”
Pierre Gasly and Lance Stroll, who also had COVID, Stroll missed the 2020 Nurburgring race as a result, felt they could have raced while suffering and supported having the freedom to make decisions that drivers feel they are responsible for.
“Yes, I think physically clearly there was no problem. I took the test after doing an 18 km race that seemed as good as it was at the time. So I was in shock when I got the news,” Gasly said.
“Unlike Lance, I haven’t had any symptoms and honestly physically it wouldn’t have been a problem.
“At the end of the day, if the scientists and the doctors believe that there will be no problem, then we should go ahead because I think we don’t want, as a driver, I don’t want my championship to be affected by this virus. ”
Stroll also explained that he thinks there are ways drivers can compete while making sure they remain isolated.
“I think we now know a lot about the virus. I think there are ways to be very cautious and responsible while having COVID and still racing,” she said.
“I think there are ways to isolate yourself, put your helmet on in your room and minimize full contact with everyone. I think there are ways to do that. I think I could compete with him.”
Carlos Sainz believes that motorsport has a unique advantage over other sports when it comes to COVID.
“If there’s one sport that I think you can compete in without spreading the virus too much or without spreading the virus, it’s Formula 1,” Sainz said.
“I think you could do all the meetings in your hotel room. Arrive at the circuit 30 minutes early with your suit and helmet on. Jump in the car and go.
“Personally, I feel like if I got COVID in the middle of a championship fight or something very important, I would have a hard time accepting missing a race if I feel good and in perfect shape.
“If I feel bad, I will be the first to raise my hand and say that I cannot race and that the third driver must intervene.”
“It’s an interesting thing for us to look into because our sport gives us the opportunity to maybe be a little bit more protected and less spread out, it should be the driver’s decision.”
Reigning F1 world champion Max Verstappen said he should rely on a “medical expert” to answer that question, while Haas F1 driver Mick Schumacher said “it shouldn’t be the case, just because obviously COVID it’s still powerful and people still have very harsh symptoms with it.”
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc also made a practical point that some countries would not allow drivers to enter the country with a positive COVID-19 test, so it would not be possible to have a policy of letting the drivers decide at each race.