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‘Cash is king’: Lewis Hamilton raises coronavirus questions at F1 opener

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Six-time world champion Lewis Hamilton has questioned the wisdom of staging the season-opening Formula One Grand Prix while other sports and motorsports series are canceling events because of the spreading coronavirus.

“I am really very surprised we’re here … it’s shocking we’re all sitting in this room. So many fans already here today,” Hamilton said Thursday at the first official news conference for drivers ahead of Sunday’s race.

Some countries were closing borders and imposing strict travel bans, Hamilton added, “yet F1 continues to go on.”

At least one team won’t be, though. McLaren announced its withdrawal Thursday after a team member tested positive for the coronavirus.

More than 300,000 fans regularly attend the Albert Park circuit over the first four days of the season. This year is expected to be no different, despite the fact some schools and universities in parts of the country have been closed after cases of coronavirus have been identified and a number of large-scale public gatherings have been scrapped.

Asked why he thought organizers were persisting with the race, Hamilton said “cash is king.”

Members of at least two F1 teams have been placed in voluntary isolation since arriving in Australia this week after showing symptoms of coronavirus, although none have yet been confirmed as cases.

A key point of concern for organizers has been the presence of Italian team 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.

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.

“I heard that the results (are) not going to come back for five days, coincidentally,” Hamilton said. “I don’t feel like I should shy away (from) …. my opinion. But the fact is, we are here. I just urge everyone to be as careful as you can be.”

The British driver said it seemed odd “walking through and seeing everything going ahead as normal, like it’s a normal day.”

“I just hope all the fans stay safe and I really hope we get through this weekend and we don’t see any fatalities.”

There have been more than 126,300 cases and 4.600 deaths since the virus outbreak started in China late last year.

The Chinese F1 Grand Prix has already been postponed, and the Bahrain GP is expected to go ahead at a circuit without fans. It has led to questions about whether the series should have just delayed the start of the season or started in Europe.

Most people quickly recover from the virus after experiencing 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.

According to World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.

IndyCar teams with NASCAR on IMS road course doubleheader in 2021

IndyCar NASCAR doubleheader 2021
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The NTT IndyCar Series will be sharing Indianapolis Motor Speedway with the NASCAR Cup Series in a race weekend doubleheader for the second consecutive season, but both series will be on the road course in August 2021.

IMS announced Wednesday that IndyCar will hold an Aug. 14, 2021 race on its 14-turn, 2.439-mile road course. It’ll be a day before NASCAR’s premier series runs the same layout for the first time after the Brickyard 400 was contested on the 2.5-mile oval for the first time in 27 years.

This season’s rescheduling of the IndyCar GMR Grand Prix to July 4, 2019 (a day before the Brickyard 400) led to the first NASCAR-IndyCar doubleheader weekend. The Xfinity Series also raced on the IMS road course for the first time July 4 after the IndyCar race ended.

INDYCAR AT IMS THIS WEEKEND: Harvest GP schedule, entry lists

IndyCar will be holding its second race weekend this year at the IMS road course Friday and Saturday with the Harvest GP.

“Our first NASCAR-INDYCAR weekend was a big success last July, with positive feedback from
our loyal fans who watched the races on NBC and from the drivers, teams and participants
involved,” IMS president Douglas Boles said in a statement. “The Xfinity Series’ debut on the IMS road course provided exactly the kind of thrilling action from the green to checkered flags that we anticipated, so we know the teams and drivers of the Cup Series will put on a great show as they turn left and right for the first time at IMS.

“We can’t wait to welcome back fans to see NASCAR and INDYCAR together during this
exciting weekend as we add another memorable chapter in the long, storied history of the
Indianapolis Motor Speedway.”

It also will mark the first NASCAR Cup-IndyCar doubleheader with a crowd as fans weren’t permitted at IMS in July because of the novel coronvavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Over the course of Wednesday, NASCAR is releasing its 36-race slate for next season. IndyCar has yet to release its full 2021 schedule.