Lance Stroll’s surprise announcement that he had tested positive for Covid-19 after the Eifel Grand Prix weekend raises plenty of uncomfortable questions.
Stroll, who sat out of the Nurburgring race after experiencing flu-like symptoms, confirmed via social media last night that he had returned a positive test the day of the Grand Prix.
He was not tested during the race weekend and had returned a negative result for the mandatory pre-weekend test on the Tuesday before the race.
However, Stroll was reported to have displayed numerous symptoms across the Friday and Saturday at the circuit, ultimately leading to his Racing Point team declaring him unfit to race.
The FIA’s Code of Conduct stipulates that any member of the F1 paddock who shows Covid-19 symptoms during the weekend should report to the event regulator.
But Racing Point team boss Otmar Szafnauer has defended his team’s actions of not reporting Stroll to the event regulator for a test despite his illness later being diagnosed as the novel coronavirus.
“Lance had left the team bubble in Germany on Saturday October 10 as he was unable to compete due to the effect of a recurring stomach upset,” said Szafnauer.
“Lance had first reported an upset stomach during the Russian Grand Prix week and subsequently tested negative for COVID-19 several times, tests taken in line with both the FIA and Racing Point’s own protocols.
“The upset stomach symptoms returned on Saturday which forced Lance to withdraw from the race and stay in his motorhome away from the paddock.
“He consulted with a doctor who did not believe his symptoms indicated COVID-19 and did not advise a test was necessary.
“Based on this clinical assessment, at the time there was no requirement to inform the FIA as to the nature of the illness.”
Despite strict health protocols and a limited number of team members on-site for each weekend, Formula 1 has experienced numerous positive cases of the virus across the 2020 season. But Stroll’s usual diagnosis highlights the sport may not be doing enough to protect the health of its participants fully.
The FIA’s current protocol relies on transparency from all teams to report any potential cases. Unfortunately, this is an ethical dilemma that the FIA cannot sufficiently police without interrupting the flow of each race weekend.
However, the current five-day testing rotation of the paddock does present a window of opportunity for confirmed cases to slip under the radar.
Stroll was tested on Tuesday and thus not obliged to test again until Sunday. Given the virus can disguise its symptoms for over 48 hours in an infected person, someone could likely catch the virus in between the testing slots and put numerous others at risk.
Lastly, whether Racing Point was correct not to report Stroll to the FIA once he became unwell suggests there may be a loophole in the current health protocol. While Racing Point are adamant they did not hide Stroll’s symptoms from the FIA, the fact that it is each team’s responsibility to approach the governing body if they feel there is a positive case suggests this could possibly happen.
Nonetheless, race director Michael Masi says there is no loophole for teams to exploit but the FIA will no doubt closely analyse how they and Racing Point would approach a similar scenario differently in the future.
“We don’t feel that there’s any loophole,” said FIA race director Michael Masi in Germany.
“There is the various time requirements to test before entering the paddock and then the follow-up testing from that point. Within our perspective, and based on the Tuesday test, his next test would have been Sunday morning to fulfil the requirements of the pending test and the FIA COVID protocol, so that one is quite simple.
“With regards to Lance feeling ill, like any other driver, it’s incumbent upon the driver and the competitor in this case, Racing Point, to determine if they feel that their drivers are not up to capacity to drive the car, which they obviously didn’t.”