Lewis Hamilton has said he is “devastated” to miss this weekend’s Sakhir Grand Prix after contracting the coronavirus. Hamilton tested positive on Monday, one day after winning the Bahrain Grand Prix, having already secured the Formula One world championship this season. He is now in isolation in Bahrain and his participation in the final race of the season at Abu Dhabi remains in the balance.
Hamilton’s Mercedes team announced on Tuesday morning that the seven-time world champion had shown mild symptoms on Monday and returned a positive result when he then took his mandatory test. He had been informed that a “contact prior to his arrival in Bahrain” had already contracted Covid-19. Hamilton had been tested three times over the Bahrain GP week, all with negative results.
“I am devastated that I won’t be racing this weekend,” he wrote on social media. “Since we started the season in June my team and I have been taking all the precautions we possibly can and following the regulations everywhere we have been in order to stay safe.
“I am gutted not to be able to race this weekend but my priority is to follow the protocols and advice to protect others. I am really lucky that I feel OK with only mild symptoms and will do my best to stay fit and healthy.”
Hamilton’s dedication to trying to avoid contracting the virus has been rigorous. At the previous races held in Europe this season he has stayed at the circuits in his motorhome rather than use hotels. He has not mixed with his family and adopted a very small social bubble – consisting almost solely of himself and his physio Angela Cullen. Cullen is now also in isolation. His contact with team members has been extremely limited, conducting meetings by zoom, with team boss Toto Wolff noting that he and Hamilton would prefer to conduct contract negotiations when they could sit down and do it face-to-face – a risk neither was willing to take while the season was ongoing.
However, last week Hamilton posted videos of himself playing tennis with his father, Anthony, and in a car with his father and his friend Daniel Forrest, both of whom were wearing masks while Hamilton was not.
Hamilton has taken 11 wins this season to secure his seventh title but closing out the season in Abu Dhabi remains in doubt. He will isolate for 10 days and will take a test late into that period. If it is negative F1 sources indicate he will be allowed to travel to Abu Dhabi and will be subject to further testing after arrival. Any further positive test would rule him out of the season finale. F1’s Covid-19 protocols remain very successful. They have conducted approximately 70,000 tests with only 82 positive results.
Mercedes have yet to announce who will replace Hamilton this weekend. Stoffel Vandoorne, the Mercedes reserve driver is the most likely candidate as he was scheduled to be go to Bahrain. However, in what is a huge opportunity to showcase a driver’s skill in the season’s quickest car, Mercedes could call on Britain’s George Russell. Russell drives for Williams but is part of the Mercedes junior driver programme and is believed to be highly likely to ultimately step up to a drive with the team.
Romain Grosjean, who escaped from an horrific accident in which his car split in two and was engulfed in a fireball at the Bahrain Grand Prix, has spoken for the first time about the accident. Grosjean hit the barriers at 137mph with an impact measured at 53G. He was then in the car for 28 seconds, engulfed in flames before he managed to climb out. Remarkably, he suffered only burns to his hands and is enjoying a good recovery.
The 34-year-old Frenchman, who drives for Haas, admitted that he would have to address the potential mental effects of the incident.
“I think there’s going to be some psychological work to be done, because I really saw death coming,” he said. He also described his his thought processes in the aftermath of the accident.
“I don’t know if the word miracle exists or if it can be used, but in any case I would say it wasn’t my time [to die],” he said. “It felt much longer than 28 seconds. I see my visor turning all orange, I see the flames on the left side of the car. I thought about a lot of things, including Niki Lauda, and I thought that it wasn’t possible to end up like that, not now. I couldn’t finish my story in Formula One like that. And then, for my children, I told myself that I had to get out. I put my hands in the fire, so I clearly felt it burning on the chassis.”
Grosjean will be replaced at the Sakhir Grand Prix by the Haas test and reserve driver Pietro Fittipaldi, grandson of Brazil’s double world champion Emerson Fittipaldi. The Frenchman has been dropped by the team for the 2021 season but he remains hopeful his injuries will have healed sufficiently for him to take part in what is likely to be his final F1 race at Abu Dhabi.
“I would say that there is a feeling of being happy to be alive, of seeing things differently,” he said. “But also there is the need to get back in the car, if possible in Abu Dhabi, to finish my story with Formula One in a different way. It was almost like a second birth. To come out of the flames that day is something that will mark my life forever.”