Drivers steer their cars after the start of the Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix at the Sakhir circuit in the desert south of the Bahraini capital Manama. Picture: ANDREJ ISAKOVIC / AFP
Drivers steer their cars after the start of the Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix at the Sakhir circuit in the desert south of the Bahraini capital Manama. Picture: ANDREJ ISAKOVIC / AFP

Dubai/London — The Bahrain Formula One (F1) Grand Prix will go ahead on March 22 without fans due to the coronavirus crisis, a blow to the Gulf Arab state’s important tourism sector.

Bahrain, which is hosting the second round of the Formula One season at the Sakhir circuit outside Manama, has reported 83 cases of the virus, mostly linked to people who had travelled to Iran.

“Bahrain has made the decision to hold this year’s [race] as a participants-only event,” organisers said on Sunday. “Convening a major sporting event which is open to the public and allows thousands of international travellers and local fans to interact in proximity would not be the right thing to do at the present time,” they added.

“To ensure that neither the sport nor its global supporter base is unduly affected, the race weekend itself will still go ahead as a televised event.”

Bahrain is the second F1 race casualty of the virus. The Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai scheduled for April 19 has already been postponed.

Racing without fans will be a first for the sport, though former commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone once mooted the idea of a “VIP grand prix” at France’s Le Castellet circuit with only invited guests.

A Bahrain International Circuit spokesperson said accredited media would attend as usual.

Italy has ordered a virtual lockdown across a swathe of its wealthy north, including financial capital, Milan, in a drastic attempt to try to contain a rapidly growing outbreak of coronavirus.

The Maranello base of Formula One’s oldest and most successful team, Ferrari, is within the affected area.

Ferrari and Red Bull-owned AlphaTauri, which are based in Faenza, will still race in Bahrain because they will be coming from Australia, which hosts the opening race in Melbourne this weekend.

“Depending on where they flew through on the way from Melbourne, there is a process that you go through,” the circuit spokesperson said of the Italian teams.

Formula One has discussed arranging a special charter for Italians working in Formula One to avoid transit through airports in countries affected by the virus.

Bahrain’s biggest global sporting event reported a three-day crowd of 97,000 in 2019, a record for the event, with 34,000 on the Sunday. That attendance is small compared with other races, with 202,146 the average Formula One three-day crowd in 2019.

Reuters