McLaren adopt strict safety policy on spread of coronavirus

Giles Richards in Barcelona

McLaren are adhering to a strict policy in an attempt to safeguard their personnel from the coronavirus. The team clarified their position after it emerged they are not allowing anyone who has visited China in the past 14 days to enter their motorhome during testing in Barcelona. It is understood no other team in the paddock has adopted the same policy.

The Chinese Grand Prix has already been postponed because of the coronavirus and the threat is still being taken seriously at McLaren, who emailed a Chinese journalist who had just arrived in Europe and informed him he should not enter their motorhome.

Zak Brown, the McLaren chief executive, said the safety of his team remained paramount. “We would never do anything that puts our people at risk and I don’t believe that F1 would,” he said.

Related: F1's Chinese GP called off because of coronavirus with Vietnam race at risk

In a statement the team said: “Given the coronavirus outbreak and based on recent updates to UK government and World Health Organization directives, McLaren has issued a policy setting out restrictions and conditions we believe prudent to safeguard the health and wellbeing of our people, contractors and customers and protect our operations.

“Among these measures is a precaution that anyone who has travelled from China in the last 14 days is not permitted to enter a McLaren operated building or facility for up to 14 days. We continue to monitor the situation closely and will revise our policy as circumstances change, while working with Formula 1 and the FIA.”

The policy is in force at the team’s base in Woking and McLaren have taken steps to reroute staff who were travelling to the Australian Grand Prix through Hong Kong. Mercedes are understood to have made similar adjustments to their travel arrangements.

Vietnam is to host its first race in Hanoi on 5 April and the situation there is being monitored. The reopening of schools and universities in Vietnam has been suspended until 29 February. Sixteen cases of the virus have been confirmed in Vietnam and last week the authorities placed 10,000 people in the Son Loi farming region under quarantine when six cases were reported there. The district is 25 miles from Hanoi.

Lewis Hamilton began the season with a confident and quick run at the Circuit de Catalunya to continue the same form with which he closed out 2019.

Lewis Hamilton began the defence of his F1 world championship with a confident and quick run to continue the same strong form with which he closed out the title in 2019. Photograph: Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas was the fastest in the morning session as Mercedes laid down an early marker. Hamilton took to the track in the afternoon and completed a relentless 94 laps during which he set the fastest time of 1min 16.976sec. Bottas was second quickest, four-tenths behind. Sergio Pérez was third for Racing Point.

Sebastian Vettel was expected to drive for Ferrari but was replaced by Charles Leclerc because the German was feeling unwell. Leclerc was 11th on the timesheets, while Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was fourth.

With stable regulations this season evolution rather than revolution is the order of the day and Mercedes were expected to maintain the form that has secured the past six drivers’ and constructors’ championships. Nonetheless as a first outing to iron out kinks in the new car it was a textbook performance. With Bottas completing 78 laps in the morning the team put in a total of 167 laps, almost three times the distance of the Spanish Grand Prix.

Williams made the start they desperately wanted having missed the opening two days of practice last year because their car was not ready. George Russell was the first driver out and completed 73 laps to finish sixth in the morning running.

The 22-year-old Briton said: “The general handling is much better, last year the car was quite scary to drive in the opening laps. It was a character-building year last year but I am confident we can go racing this time and have a bit more fun.”