Leclerc: Positive COVID tests show F1 needs to stay cautious

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McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo was forced to skip the second winter test in Bahrain last week following a positive test, while Aston Martin announced on Thursday that Sebastian Vettel will miss the opening race of the new season after contracting COVID-19.

For 2022, the FIA’s COVID-19 protocols have been relaxed in some ways. Personnel are no longer required to complete a PCR test within 24 hours of entering the paddock, although it is strongly encouraged, and local guidelines still need to be followed.

A number of teams have returned to doing in-person media sessions for the new season, having chiefly used online platforms such as Zoom for the past two years, while driver autograph sessions are also returning in Bahrain.

Ferrari driver Leclerc said it was “good things are coming back slowly to normality”, but stressed the need to stay vigilant.

“We need to be cautious, also in-between drivers and all of these things, because COVID has not disappeared from one day to another,” Leclerc said.

“Still now, if you have COVID, you cannot race, it’s very costly. We still need to be very careful.”

Carlos Sainz Jr., Charles Leclerc and Ferrari’s racing director Laurent Mekies Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

Leclerc’s teammate Carlos Sainz said he was “trying to stay as disciplined as I was two years ago” despite some restrictions being relaxed.

“I’m not going to lie, it’s tiring and it’s tough after two years, to still do the same things,” Sainz said.

“Some things I got used to, some things I still struggle like all of you guys, to wear the mask at all times and all that. I just hope we can keep going back to normality as soon as possible.

Sainz acknowledged that if he had an opportunity to “fight for bigger things” this year, there would be pressure to take extra cautions for fear of missing a race. In recent years, Lewis Hamilton, Sergio Perez, Lance Stroll, Nikita Mazepin and Kimi Raikkonen have all been sidelined from grand prix race weekends due to positive test results.

Teams remain responsible for their own testing procedures away from the F1 paddock. Leclerc added that Ferrari was conducting testing on a regular basis, particularly at the factory, and that common sense always kicked in if anyone felt ill.

Leclerc has contracted COVID-19 twice, most recently at the end of the 2021 season, and said his experiences were “very different”.

“The first one wasn’t too bad, the second one I felt quite a bit worse, just headache and not feeling really, really well,” Leclerc said.

“But it didn’t last too long for me, like one week, one week and a half, for both cases. It really depends. I have some friends that are in perfect health and had it in a much worse way. So yeah, very difficult to predict.”

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