Formula 1 boss Ross Brawn has revealed a translator triggered the most significant COVID-19 outbreak that the series had to deal with this year.
Although Brawn didn’t specify the event, it’s understood that the “worst cluster” occurred at the Russian Grand Prix at Sochi in September.
Brawn praised the way the series coped with the pandemic, and also highlighted the anomaly of three out of the small group of 20 F1 drivers testing positive.
F1’s 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 away from the venues.
Sergio Perez, Lance Stroll and Lewis Hamilton all had to miss races after testing positive, representing a much higher percentage than was seen in the overall F1 numbers.
Over 1,300 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.
“I think it’s a brilliant example of how F1 in times of crisis pulls together as a complete family,” Brawn told the F1 Podcast. “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.”
When asked about the test results, Brawn highlighted the relatively high percentage of drivers who were infected by COVID.
“It was slightly over one in 1,000,” he said. “And it’s fascinating to look at those cases, because we had three drivers, which is kind of disproportionate out of 20 drivers. That’s something you’ve got to think about.
“Of those 78 that were positive, quite a number were 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, amongst the teams. The numbers within the teams of mechanics and engineers 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 admitted that when the revised season was planned around the new COVID protocols there were many unknowns.
“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.
“But I think the protocols we put in place, the face masks, social distancing, bubbles, it did mean that when we had cases, they didn’t escalate and become uncontrollable.
“I think that was a key barrier for us to get through, to know we could actually manage it. Because it would be unrealistic to think we wouldn’t have cases. But when we got them, how are we going to deal with them? And could we contain them?”
Brawn also 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 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,” he said.
“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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