Motor racing: Vietnam F1 Grand Prix gets go-ahead despite virus fears

Technical experts check the construction of the Formula One Grand Prix race track in Hanoi on Dec 13, 2019. PHOTO: AFP

HANOI (AFP) - Vietnam's inaugural Formula One Grand Prix will take place in Hanoi in April as planned, the organisers said on Tuesday (Feb 18), avoiding the fate of the Chinese Grand Prix which was postponed over the deadly coronavirus outbreak.

The virus, which has killed more than 1,800 people in China, has trashed Asia's sporting calendar, forcing the postponement of top events including the Hong Kong Sevens rugby.

But Vietnamese authorities said the country's inaugural F1 race would go ahead as "scheduled" on April 5, Le Ngoc Chi, CEO of Vietnam Grand Prix told AFP.

That flies in the face of mounting fears over the spread of the virus from neighbouring China and the risk of transmission among the crowds expected to make the journey to the Vietnamese capital.

"The time for the... F1 race will not be postponed or delayed," Tran Trung Hieu, deputy director of Hanoi's tourism department was quoted as saying by state media.

"Although this is a sports event, it has a very huge impact on Vietnam and Hanoi's tourism," he said, adding all measures will be taken to ensure safety.

AFP reporters saw workers building stands at the racetrack as construction continued this week.

Football friendly cancelled

The go-ahead comes the same day Vietnam's football federation announced that an international friendly scheduled a week before the F1 race will be cancelled.

Vietnam and Iraq's national teams were supposed to play on March 26 as preparation for World Cup qualifiers.

But the match has been cancelled because of the outbreak and at "the request of the Iraq Football Federation", said a statement from Vietnam's Football Federation.

The Asian Football Confederation had earlier been forced to change the dates of home games for Vietnamese clubs in the AFC Cup after the authorities cancelled all sports events in February because of the virus.

Last week, Vietnam became the only country besides China to enforce a mass quarantine of a community to contain a cluster of virus cases.

Checkpoints have been set up around the six villages that make up Son Loi, about 40km outside Hanoi after six people were detected with the virus there.

Vietnam, which shares a porous border with China, has 16 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, including those in Son Loi.

It banned all flights to and from mainland China in a bid to stop the virus from spreading.

It also suspended new tourist visas for Chinese nationals or foreigners who had been in China over the past two weeks.

The communist country will get its first taste of the glitz and glamour of Formula One with the Hanoi race, as the sport attempts to reach new markets in South-east Asia.

Hanoi has bet big on the event's popularity, signing a 10-year, multi-million-dollar deal with Formula One last year which the state media said would cost Vietnam US$60 million (S$83.5 million) per year.

The fee has been picked up in full by the country's largest private conglomerate, VinGroup, which is hoping to dazzle with a race on a street track.

The commitment to hold the race will likely be welcomed by Formula One chiefs who are scrambling to fit the postponed Shanghai race into this season's schedule.

The Chinese GP, scheduled for April 19, last week joined the World Athletics Indoor Championships and European Tour and LPGA golf tournaments in being shelved because of the deadly outbreak.

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