Formula 1 is bracing itself to enter an unprecedented ‘biosphere’ lockdown in Abu Dhabi, as the sport adheres to the strictest COVID-19 rules that it has encountered in 2020.
The regulations are such that they will make it problematic for the currently-quarantined Lewis Hamilton to be able to compete in Abu Dhabi, even if he tests negative in the coming days.
On Monday, the entire F1 circus – apart from a handful of drivers and team VIPs travelling on private jets – will be flying from Bahrain to Abu Dhabi on 10 charter planes, amid tight restrictions.
The Abu Dhabi government’s COVID measures are so strict that access by road is currently blocked from its UAE neighbour Dubai, and special exceptions have been made to allow the grand prix to go ahead, following months of discussions between F1 and the authorities.
The area around the circuit and the adjacent hotels has been closed off, with entry for F1 personnel only allowed on Monday. After entry, nobody will be permitted to exit – if they wish to return – to what is being termed a ‘biosphere’ until after the test on the following Tuesday.
The only exceptions are vehicles and personnel with specially arranged government passes. The preparation process began in Bahrain, where all F1 entrants had to take a locally mandated COVID test at the airport on arrival. They then had to isolate in their hotels until they received a negative result via a government app on their phone.
Subsequent to their arrival, all F1 personnel have been tested every few days with the Bahrain government and FIA testing systems working together.
Arrivals in Abu Dhabi have had to spend at least a week in Bahrain under the COVID testing regime, so anyone who skipped the Bahrain GP – such as Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto – had to travel out for the second race in order to guarantee their presence at the season finale. The only alternative option is a mandatory 48-hour quarantine for anyone travelling directly from Europe to Abu Dhabi.
Hamilton’s situation is complicated, because he currently remains subject to Bahrain’s quarantine rules, and will also have to comply with Abu Dhabi’s entry restrictions.
It’s understood that if he did test negative this week, but misses the Monday travel window, with his private plane he will only be able to enter Abu Dhabi later in the week if the government makes a special exemption for him.