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Formula 1

Racing Point launches strong defence of its COVID processes

by Glenn Freeman
5 min read

Racing Point is adamant its testing processes are sufficient following Lance Stroll’s positive COVID-19 case after the team opted not to test him for the virus despite him feeling unwell.

Stroll missed the Eifel Grand Prix after reporting too ill to drive on Saturday morning. He withdrew before qualifying and did not re-enter the paddock at the weekend, with Nico Hulkenberg taking his place.

At the time Racing Point said Stroll was not a COVID risk as he had passed a coronavirus test before travelling, and he had been unwell since Russia.

But he was said to be suffering “flu-like” symptoms including fatigue and, after arriving in Germany, diarrhoea. Both are listed by the World Health Organisation as COVID-19 symptoms.

Stroll did not undergo another COVID-19 test until he returned home to Switzerland on Sunday – and then tested positive for the virus.

It has sparked debate over whether Racing Point took an unnecessary risk in not testing Stroll, or even breached the FIA’s detailed COVID-19 protocols by not reporting him for a test once his condition worsened in Germany.

It is understood that the FIA will issue Racing Point with a warning for failing to disclose Stroll’s positive test sooner – but not for the action that the team took at the time of his illness at the Eifel GP.

It is not clear what consequences are associated with a repeat offence but punishment is expected if Racing Point does breach the code again.

“We all benefit from hindsight, but with the information we had at the time, no COVID symptoms, an upset stomach like he had tested negative twice with, Lance knew he wasn’t driving so he flew home. We didn’t think it was necessary,” said Racing Point boss Otmar Szafnauer.

Szafnauer has launched an impassioned defence of the team’s actions, stating that it conducts COVID testing “more than any other business on the planet”.

“I test every employee twice a week at the factory,” said Szafnauer. “We have done more than 15,000 tests. We’ve had six positives.

Otmar Szafnauer Racing Point F1 2020

“We test and take this virus more seriously than anybody, we test all of our staff upon arrival from a grand prix so they have the peace of mind when they go home, that they didn’t pick anything up.

“We’re the only ones that do that, nobody else.

“I brought in consultants to help me, consultants in the UK that told us what other businesses were doing, businesses our size and bigger businesses.

“And we do 10 times more than those consultants knew that anybody else does.”

Szafnauer said the issue boils down to not believing Stroll was exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms when the decision was made not to take a precautionary test in Germany.

If the team felt Stroll was showing COVID symptoms it would have been obligated to report it to the FIA, a re-test would have been likely and if positive Stroll and his bubble – potentially including multiple members of his side of the garage – would have needed to quarantine while awaiting results of their own re-tests as well.

However, Szafnauer reiterated that Stroll’s personal doctor advised the symptoms were not that of the coronavirus. He also refuted repeated suggestions to the contrary on the grounds it was reasonable to assume Stroll’s symptoms were not linked to the virus given he’d tested negative.

“He had a stomach upset and he’s had it consistently,” said Szafnauer.

“And one thing that Lance did is he called his doctor. He’s Lance’s private physician in Switzerland.

“It was a phone call. It was the same guy Lance saw after Russia.”

Szafnauer claimed he “misspoke” when he described Stroll’s symptoms as “flu-like” in Germany.

He said he was so convinced Stroll did not have COVID that when Stroll reported ill on Saturday morning, Szafnauer was still encouraging him to try to drive – which is why Hulkenberg’s call-up was so late.

Nico Hulkenberg Nurburgring F1 paddock Eifel GP 2020

Hulkenberg is on-site in Portugal in the event Racing Point needs to call on him again, having done so for three races now in 2020 as Sergio Perez missed the two Silverstone grands prix because he had also contracted the virus.

But Racing Point is expecting Stroll to drive this week after his negative test on Monday. Szafnauer also said Stroll’s personal bubble was tested after the positive diagnosis and they did not have the virus, while returning team members were also clear on arrival back home.

He stated there is no reason to believe the team’s practices should change.

“I think the world is learning, the FIA are learning, I think we’re learning,” said Szafnauer.

“We’re learning because like I said we’ve done 15,000 tests so we’re I think at the front of the curve.

“Could he have had an upset stomach, and COVID, and they’re not linked? Could very well be.

Lance Stroll Russian GP grid F1 2020 Racing Point

“Had we not tested Sunday night, like we always do, because we test everyone upon arrival, and Lance would have just taken the pre-event test, we wouldn’t have known. He would have been negative.

“If I thought our process was wrong, I would change it. But like I say, we at Racing Point test every Tuesday, and every Friday, every employee. The travelling employees get pre-event tests and post-event test.

“The FIA now I understand have introduced the test that you’ve got to take 24 hours from entering [the country]. That’s new.

“So that’s something the FIA has changed, and I think with what we do at Racing Point, and with the change the FIA made, I’m not gonna do anything else, there’s nothing else to do.”

Stroll’s father, team chairman Lawrence, tested positive for COVID-19 at the same time as Lance did.

However, the elder Stroll was not present in Russia or Germany. He has since tested negative and returned to work.

Szafnauer suggested it was just a coincidence as both Strolls posted negative tests before the Eifel GP and then positive tests at the same time on Sunday “despite not being together”.

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