German commercial broadcaster RTL has said it will refrain from on-site reporting of the opening three races of the 2020 Formula 1 season due to risks presented by the coronavirus.
RTL, which holds free-to-air rights to the motor-racing championship in Germany, said it will not send its employees to the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne (March 12-15), Bahrain Grand Prix (March 20-22) and Vietnam Grand Prix (April 3-5).
Instead, the entire production of its live broadcasts will be based in Cologne.
RTL’s sports director, Manfred Loppe, said: “The spread of the coronavirus, the associated incalculable health risks for all colleagues and, furthermore, broadcast security that can no longer be guaranteed due to the immediate measures when infected, only allow for one decision, that is to produce from the Cologne broadcasting centre.”
RTL holds rights to F1 in Germany alongside pay-television broadcaster Sky Deutschland, with both their deals due to expire following the 2020 campaign. RTL enjoyed exclusive F1 coverage on linear television in Germany in 2018 as Sky decided against renewing its agreement, before returning to sign a two-year deal (covering the 2019 and 2020 seasons).
RTL told German news agency DPA that the broadcaster was in talks over a new contract.
The broadcaster said: “Formula 1 is, and remains, one of the most popular and most seen serial sports formats.”
F1 has already postponed this season’s Chinese GP and questions have been raised over its inaugural race in Vietnam. Quarantine periods by countries such as Vietnam have raised concerns for Italian team Ferrari’s ability to participate.
Italy has been hit hard by the epidemic and Vietnam has imposed two-week quarantine periods on anyone who has come from or been in Italy prior to entry. Speaking to Reuters earlier this week, F1’s managing director of motorsport, Ross Brawn, said: “If a team is prevented from entering a country we can’t have a race. Not a Formula 1 world championship race, anyway, because that would be unfair.
“Obviously if a team makes its own choice not to go to a race, that’s their decision. But where a team is prevented from going to a race because of a decision of the country then it’s difficult to have a fair competition.”