Mercedes boss spreads doubt over Brazil and US Grands Prix due to coronavirus pandemic

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff fears it will be impossible for Formula One to travel to flyaway races in Brazil and the United States because of the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic that remains in the American countries.

The 2020 F1 season finally got underway on Friday in Austria after a delay of nearly four months due to the Covid-19 pandemic, with a streamlined calendar set to complete the world championship in countries where conditions allow races to take place.

At present, F1 has announced an eight-race European schedule, with double-header races in Austria and Britain supported by Grands Prix in Hungary, Spain, Belgium and Italy.

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F1 are hopeful of announcing more races in due course, with the Middle East hub of Bahrain and Abu Dhabi expected to end the season with up to four races, and owners Liberty Media are also hopeful of up to four more races to fulfil a 15-16-race calendar.

But the escalation of the coronavirus pandemic in the US and Brazil – currently the two worst-hit countries – makes it hard for Mercedes team principal Wolff to see the paddock heading across the Atlantic unless the situation improves considerably.

“Looking at those countries right now, you cannot possibly imagine we would be going there,” Wolff told BBC Five Live as the first day of the Austrian Grand Prix got underway on Friday.

“Based on my conversations with (F1 chairman) Chase Carey, he doesn’t want to close any doors but it doesn’t look like we will be going there. They are pretty diligent and they wouldn’t go there if it was a risk for our people.”

The US recorded a third consecutive day of record new Covid-19 cases on Thursday, while Brazil has more than 1.5m confirmed cases – among the worst-hit countries in the world. The Mexico Grand Prix is also one of those races yet to be confirmed as cancelled or otherwise, but like the USA and Brazil their daily number of new cases is currently on an upward trajectory.

Liberty Media and the FIA have said they will confirm the rest of the calendar in the coming weeks, but as the season got underway, there remains great uncertainty over where and when the season will conclude.

Wolff also addressed the uncertainty surrounding his own team once more, with both Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas out of contract at the end of the year as well as Wolff himself. Having taken a share in Aston Martin, who will take control of the Racing Point team next season, speculation has been rife that the Austrian could be on his way out of the team, while he has also said himself that he is in talks with Mercedes about how he can be best utilised in what could be an alternative role within the team.

Wolff’s last update on their 2021 driver line-up however was that they remain committed to Hamilton and Bottas, and while the availability of Sebastian Vettel gives him plenty of food for thought – with the four-time world champion to leave Ferrari at the end of the season – plus the presence of reserve driver George Russell impressing at Williams means they do have options open to them.

“(Vettel)’s a great guy and we mustn’t not consider him,” Wolff added.

“But our priority is Lewis and Valtteri and we very much hope to extend their contracts.”

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