February 10, 2020 / 6:27 PM / 17 days ago

Health first but we hope to go, Wolff says of Chinese GP

LONDON (Reuters) - Mercedes Formula One team boss Toto Wolff said on Monday he was still preparing for a Chinese Grand Prix in April despite the coronavirus epidemic, but health had to be the deciding factor.

FILE PHOTO: Formula One F1 - Russian Grand Prix - Sochi Autodrom, Sochi, Russia - September 28, 2019 Mercedes' team principal Toto Wolff REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

Local organisers of the April 19 race in Shanghai have yet to request a postponement or cancellation, even if F1 insiders increasingly doubt it will go ahead.

Formula One’s managing director for motorsport Ross Brawn said last week the sport would seek to reschedule the fourth round of the season if it had to be postponed.

The all-electric Formula E series has already called off its race scheduled for the Chinese coastal resort city of Sanya next month.

“Not going would be a shame. We had full grandstands last year, it was sold out,” Wolff told reporters at a news conference to announce petrochemicals company Ineos as a principal sponsor of the reigning champions.

“China starts to become a really important market in terms of the fan followership, we have great activities in Shanghai around the race and not going there would obviously not be great for the fans and ourselves.

“But health comes first, and I hope that they get in control of that. That’s the biggest priority.”

Shanghai sports authorities last week recommended the suspension of all sporting events in the city “until the epidemic is over.”

Airlines have cancelled flights to China, with British Airways announcing on Monday it was halting all flights to Beijing and Shanghai until the end of March. A majority of the 10 teams are based in Britain.

The virus has killed more than 900 people, most of them in China, and has spread to at least 27 countries and territories.

Mercedes have won five of the last six Chinese Grands Prix, four of those by six-times world champion Lewis Hamilton.

China has also been identified by Formula One’s commercial rights holders Liberty Media as a major growth area for the sport.

Wolff said he would still be going to the Chinese embassy later on Monday for a biometric scan as part of his visa application.

“I would very much hope that we go to China,” said the Austrian. “So at the moment everything looks like we are going to China.”

Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Pritha Sarkar

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