Racing Point team boss Otmar Szafnauer said on Friday that he had no issue with Sergio Perez’s decision to return to Mexico, but would analyze his itinerary to discover how he contracted the coronavirus.
Speaking at the British Grand Prix, Szafnauer suggested Perez’s trip home was “no different” than Ferrari returning to Italy following the Hungarian Grand Prix.
“I don’t think ‘Checo’ did anything wrong going back to his family,” said Szafnauer.
“He takes all the precautions – I think it’s no different than, you know, Ferrari going back to Italy, for example.”
His comments were sure to intensify debate after many observers asked if it was advisable for a racing driver to fly to Mexico, where about 7,000 cases of the virus are reportedly diagnosed each day.
He has been replaced by experienced German driver Nico Hulkenberg.
“He’s asymptomatic,” added Szafnauer. “He was surprised that he tested positive. He couldn’t believe it. He said ‘there’s no way – I’ve no symptoms, I feel completely fine’.
“He travelled privately so he thought he took ample precautions. He didn’t get on a commercial flight in between races. So he was surprised.
“But he’s OK. We’re going to check on him daily – send the doctor to him – and he’s quarantining now. We just have to make sure that this virus gets out of his system and he comes back racing.”
Mother’s ‘bad accident’
Perez explained in a video posted on Twitter that he had flown home to visit his mother in hospital after she had “a bad accident.”
His trip was compared by many to that of Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc who flew home in between the first two races of the season in Austria.
“We’ve got no clauses in the contract where he’s got to ask permission to go back to his family,” explained Szafnauer.
“I think his family was in Mexico, and it’s not a surprise that he went back to Mexico, that’s what he’s done forever while he’s been driving for us.
“We did discuss how he was flying there and back and it was always by a private flight, never commercially. There’s no issue with that. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.”
He added that many of the Racing Point team live in nearby Northampton, a virus hotspot that has been shut down because of a spike in the rate of infection.
“Our philosophy is to take all the precautions necessary in light of where we are travelling and if we do take those precautions, I’m confident that we won’t get the virus.
“Now, we just need to look back, forensically, and try to ascertain how he became infected and make sure that we cover that off in the future.”
Szafnauer agreed that the strict Formula One protocols may need some revisions.
“Perhaps, we should look at it and change the code and say that, in the season, you must stay within your bubble?”
He confirmed that Perez’s assistant and physio, who travelled with him, were also in quarantine despite returning negative test results.
He added that three team members who assisted Perez when he did a simulator session at the factory had isolated and stayed at home until returning negative test results.
“They are working from the factory and haven’t come to the paddock,” he said.
“But they are taking a second test and I anticipate it will be negative again and then we’ll see if they can come into the circuit.
“I am 100 per cent confident, but it’s belt and braces – that’s why we’re testing them twice.”