Formula 1 bosses are looking to use a customised contact tracking app to help keep the paddock and pit lane safe from coronavirus once the season finally gets underway next month at the Red Bull Ring.
The initiative is in addition to the new ‘code of conduct’ announced this week that lays out mandatory rules for team personnel, circuit staff and other event attendees will have to follow to avoid spreading the virus.
FIA safety director Adam Baker said such measures were key to avoiding a repeat of the situation in Melbourne in March, when the season opener was cancelled at the last minutes due to a member of the McLaren team working at Albert Park Circuit testing positive for COVID-19.
“One of the key areas in holding a successful event, and learning the hard lessons from Melbourne, is in having precise contact tracing,” Baker told the FIA’s eConference 2020 as reported by Motorsport.com.
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“[It also means] having a rapid testing capability so we can accurately determine people who may have been affected.
“Those people can then be quickly quarantined, and then they can be quickly tested, and released from quarantine if they’re found to be negative.”
Track and trace technology uses mobile phone technology such as Bluetooth to register who the owner has come into close and prolonged proximity with. If somone later tests positive for coronavirus, then everyone they’ve been in contact with can immediately be warned and told to undergo an immediate test.
Countries around the world are already using or developing track and trace systems for the general public, but Baker acknowledged that sporting events required a different level of accuracy in order to be truly effective.
“We reviewed what was available for contact tracing solutions,” he said. “And we quickly came to the conclusion that we would need to have something which was specifically designed for motorsport events.
“In particular, we wanted to have an adjustable sensitivity, which was not available in anything we had access to.
“We also wanted to have the ability to verify test results before they were entered into the system, to prevent any type of misuse or accidents,” he added.
Baker explained that it was important to avoid situations “that could cause groups to be locked in or confined into quarantine when in fact they hadn’t been in contact with anyone who was infected.
“We also needed to address concerns in regard to data protection laws, which has been done in the development of this solution,” he said, since the technology will be shared with national sporting associations around the globe to use in local competitions.
Haas F1 principal Guenther Steiner explained how the system would look from the team’s perspective.
“There will be an app, which we haven’t seen yet, so we can monitor the situation [to see] who the person infected was in contact with,” he said.
“[Protocols are] in place so that you can really see who he was in contact with the app. And if the app is not used, they need to tell us who they were in contact with and then you take [them] out.”
Steiner also described how team members working at the venue will use ‘bubbles’ to limit the risk of contagion in the event of an outbreak.
“They split it up in bubbles, everything is in bubbles!” he said. “Maybe six people have to go out of the paddock and be replaced with new people.
“We have some people standing by in the factory, are tested, who could go at any time,” he continued. “But they are prepared, they are tested. They are ready to go if needed. But we are not taking them there and having them sit in the hotel!
“If there are too many [team members testing positive] I think the protocol is that that team doesn’t participate in the race.”
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