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Concern Revs Up Over Ferrari's Participation In Australian Grand Prix

Australia has banned travel from China, Iran and South Korea and on Thursday the PM increased restrictions for Italy, casting further doubt over whether Ferrari will compete in Melbourne's Formula 1 Grand Prix.

The federal government has introduced "enhanced screening measures to deal with those travellers that have come from Italy", more than a week before the F1 season opener is expected to kick off in Victoria.

It comes as the Italian government ordered the closure of all schools and universities nationwide until March 15 as it grapples to contain Europe’s worst outbreak of coronavirus, which has claimed 107 lives.

All major Italian sporting events will also be held behind closed doors until April.

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On Thursday, 2GB shock jock Chris Smith called for a tougher approach when it comes to Italian travel.

"Why aren't we shutting the doors to Italy ... we should be doing that today," he said on Today.

"There's a bit of pressure in Melbourne today, about 'oh if you do that you're going to shut down the Grand Prix completely'. Not important, sorry, not important."

Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel. Image: Getty

"We have to look after people's lives and we know what works -- close the borders," he said.

On Wednesday Martin Pakula, the state government's Minister For Sport, said there's no guarantee Ferrari will attend or that the race itself would go ahead.

"I recognise that this situation is extremely dynamic and, to some extent, these are matters that are out of my control,'' Pakula said.

"I am very hopeful … but I can't say anything about it with absolute certainty."

With the coronavirus infection rate and death toll changing daily, more travel bans in coming days are not unlikely.

This would leave Australian Grand Prix chiefs scrambling if the Italian team -- which has the biggest following of any team -- would be forced to sit it out.

While Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc are not based in Italy and would be able to compete, their extended team and support staff would be impacted by a travel ban. 

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Formula 1 boss Ross Brawn says the Grands Prix event will be scrapped if any team is denied entry to a country.

"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," he said.

Therefore, even if the Melbourne event went ahead (sans Ferrari) it would not be classified as a round of the world championship, and would impact the status of the Aussie race.

The hit to the state's economy would also be significant, given hundreds of thousands of people travel to Melbourne for the Grand Prix.

According the Victorian government, the Grand Prix is the busiest time of year for Melbourne's trams, with more than 134,000 race fans using more than 7000 tram services over the four days last year.

Sebastian Vettel  on track during the F1 Grand Prix of Australia at Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit on March 17, 2019 in Melbourne, Australia. Image: Getty Images

 World motorsport has already been rocked with a number of events either cancelled or postponed due to COVID-19. 

On Monday it was confirmed the MotoGP class would not race at this weekend’s Qatar Grand Prix.

While the Bahrain and Vietnam Grands Prix are slated  to be the second and third events of a season, Vietnam has already imposed a 14-day quarantine period on visitors from Italy, while Bahrain has employed special measures to ensure its race can go ahead. 

Ferrari and Australia Grand Prix have been contacted for comment.

Contact the author alattouf@networkten.com.au