Coronavirus fears escalate in F1 as Australian Grand Prix approaches

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Formula One driver Daniel Ricciardo pulled out of a scheduled Renault team news conference Wednesday over fears he might be exposed to the coronavirus, while three other team members have been placed in self-isolation just days out from the Australian Grand Prix.

Ricciardo and teammate Esteban Ocon were due to take questions from the media after they unveiled Renault’s new livery for the 2020 season at the Albert Park circuit. But they were withdrawn by team officials at the last minute.

“It is a very particular circumstance in which we are joining Australia and Melbourne,” team principal Cyril Abiteboul said. “Usually, it’s a moment that we all love when we are racing in Formula 1.

“Our drivers were supposed to be with us for this event but due to the situation, we’ve excused them for the occasion. I hope you understand why we are taking such measures.”

Elsewhere, Australian media reported a member of McLaren’s Formula One team, as well as two personnel from the U.S.-based Haas F1, are in self-isolation after being tested for the virus in Melbourne.

A key point of concern for organizers has been the presence of Italian teams Ferrari and the newly rebranded AlphaTauri team, formerly Toro Rosso, as well as tire supplier Pirelli.

Members of all three organizations had their temperatures taken upon arrival in Melbourne and F1 officials have said a race for championship points will not go ahead without them.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

Italy is in lockdown as the country attempts to limit the spread of the virus, with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Wednesday announcing travel restrictions that would have precluded them from taking part in the Australian Grand Prix.

Next week’s race in Bahrain will take place with no spectators, while the Chinese Grand Prix scheduled for April 19 has been postponed.

Jack Miller wins the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix as Fabio Quartararo stops his downward points’ slide

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Jack Miller ran away with the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi as Fabio Quartararo stopped his downward slide in the championship when a last-lap accident from his closest rival in the standings caused Francesco Bagnaia to score zero points.

Starting seventh, Miller quickly made his way forward. He was second at the end of two laps. One lap later, he grabbed the lead from Jorge Martin. Once in the lead, Miller posted three consecutive fastest laps and was never seriously challenged. It was Australian native Miller’s first race win of the season and his sixth podium finish.

The proximity to his home turf was not lost.

“I can ride a motorcycle sometimes,” Miller said in NBC Sports’ post-race coverage. “I felt amazing all weekend since I rolled out on the first practice. It feels so awesome to be racing on this side of the world.

“What an amazing day. It’s awesome; we have the home Grand Prix coming up shortly. Wedding coming up in a couple of weeks. I’m over the moon; can’t thank everyone enough.”

Miller beat Brad Binder to the line by 3.4 seconds with third-place Jorge Martin finishing about one second behind.

But the center of the storm was located just inside the top 10 as both Quartararo and Bagnaia started deep in the field.

Quartararo was on the outside of row three in ninth with Bagnaia one row behind in 12th. Neither rider moved up significantly, but the championship continued to be of primary importance as Bagnaia put in a patented late-race charge to settle onto Quartararo’s back tire, which would have allowed the championship leader to gain only a single point.

On the final lap, Bagnaia charged just a little too hard and crashed under heavy braking, throwing away the seven points he would have earned for a ninth-place finish.

The day was even more dramatic for the rider who entered the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix third in the standings. On the sighting lap, Aleix Espargaro had an alarm sound, so he peeled off into the pits, dropped his primary bike and jumped aboard the backup. Starting from pit lane, he trailed the field and was never able to climb into the points. An undisclosed electronic problem was the culprit.

For Quartararo, gaining eight points on the competition was more than a moral victory. This was a track on which he expected to run moderately, and he did, but the problems for his rivals gives him renewed focus with four rounds remaining.

Next week, the series heads to Thailand and then Miller’s home track of Phillip Island in Australia. They will close out the Pacific Rim portion of the schedule before heading to Spain for the finale in early November.

It would appear team orders are not in play among the Ducati riders. Last week’s winner Enea Bastianini made an aggressive early move on Bagnaia for position before the championship contender wrestled the spot back.

In his second race back following arm surgery, Marc Marquez won the pole. His last pole was more than 1,000 days ago on this same track in 2019, the last time the series competed at Motegi. Marquez slipped to fifth in the middle stages of the race, before regaining a position to finish just off the podium.

In Moto2 competition, Ai Ogura beat Augusto Fernandez to close the gap in that championship to two points. Fernandez holds the scant lead. Alonso Lopez rounded out the podium.

Both American riders, Cameron Beaubier and Joe Roberts finished just outside the top 10 in 11th and 12th respectively.