Hamilton tests negative and will race in Abu Dhabi
Lewis Hamilton will race this weekend’s season finale in Abu Dhabi after testing negative twice for coronavirus in Bahrain and Abu Dhabi. The seven-times champion missed last weekend’s Sakhir Grand Prix because of being infected with the virus.
Tests that have taken place in the last few days have shown him to now be all clear. The completion of his quarantine period and the signing off with negative tests means that he will return to Mercedes for the F1 season finale.
A statement from Mercedes said: “Lewis tested negative for COVID-19 on Wednesday prior to completion of his self-isolation period in Bahrain. This enabled him to travel to Abu Dhabi on Thursday afternoon, and he tested negative on arrival.
“Lewis has therefore completed the protocols required by the FIA for his entry to the paddock tomorrow and will be able to take part in the race weekend.”
Hamilton’s confirmed negative test means that George Russell will return to Williams this weekend. The Englishman has had to pass several negative tests both to leave Bahrain and enter Abu Dhabi with the FIA said that no special exemption had been given to him, and he had to follow procedures that were standard for everyone.
“The FIA COVID-19 protocols remain clear and have not changed. A negative pre-test result is necessary to be given access to the Formula 1 Paddock as set out in Appendix S to the International Sporting Code and another negative test result no more than 24 hours following arrival is required.”
The announcement came late evening in Abu Dhabi, meaning he gave no interviews on Thursday.
Russell preparing for Mercedes without knowing if he’ll drive
George Russell says was is preparing for this weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend as if he will again drive for Mercedes, even though Lewis Hamilton will return to his seat if the world champion returns a negative coronavirus test result.
Going into the season finale Russell doesn’t know if he will have a second outing in Hamilton’s seat at Mercedes, where he starred and nearly won in Bahrain last week, or return to his usual seat at Williams.
Hamilton’s ten-day isolation period ended today, with him saying earlier in the week he was feeling better.
In the meantime, Russell continued to appear in Mercedes for Thursday’s media day and completed press conference duties alongside Valtteri Bottas.
Russell told Sky Sports, “We are obviously waiting on Lewis to return with a negative result. If he does, he’ll be in the car. So as it stands I’m just approaching this weekend as if I came driving a Mercedes. What happens tonight tomorrow, we’ll have to wait and see. If Lewis comes in, I’ll be going back to Williams.”
The Englishman impressed on his debut for Mercedes, nearly taking victory in a dominant race before a rare pit-stop blunder by the world champions and then a cruel slow puncture dropped the Briton to ninth.
His performance earned him respect and shows he was deserving of the drive, but his first weekend with Mercedes showed his pointless career until last weekend s showing what he could do at F1’s sharp end was important for both him and those monitoring his progress.
He added, “Obviously as a driver you always believe in yourself, you always have confidence in yourself. Being at Williams the past 18 months, not even being able to fight for points, deep down you think you’re doing a good job but you never quite know until you get that chance to prove it
Mercedes make minor changes for Russell
Mercedes have made minor changes to the car to help George Russell if he races for them this weekend. Russell still doesn’t know if he will be driving for the team as they await the results of Lewis Hamilton’s latest coronavirus test.
The Englishman was a star performer in Shakir last weekend coming close to a victory before a mix up at his final pit stop. That was despite having an uncomfortable time fitting into a car that had not been optimised to fit a taller driver – which included having to wear race boots that were a size smaller than he normally does.
When asked by Motorsport.com if Mercedes had made any changes to help him fit better in the W11 regardless of whether he races, Russell explained that the short turnaround time between the last two races of the season meant “we’ve made some minor modifications”.
He added: “But there’s only a limited amount of things you can do in the short period of time that we’ve had. ultimately a lot more work needs to go in to get me comfortable in the car.”
“We’ve got some slightly different things on the steering wheel, which makes things easier for me. So that is positive. But having had a race weekend in the car, everything should feel more natural.”
Russell admitted he felt a little “more battered and bruised” the day after he led the majority of the Sakhir race, compared to how he normally feels after a race in Williams’ FW43.
My time at Ferrari was a failure – Vettel
Sebastian Vettel says his six years with Ferrari was a failure after missing out on his dream of winning the Formula One championship with the team. The four-times champion took fourteen wins but was unable to secure a fifth world title.
He came closest in 2017 and 2018, when Ferrari appeared to have a car capable of winning the title, but never entered the final round with a shot at winning. This weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will be Vettel’s last race with the team before moving to a rebranded Racing Point which becomes Aston Martin for 2021.
Asked if being Ferrari’s third-most successful driver in terms of race victories, and the fact he went up against the dominant Mercedes outfit, Vettel said they still failed.
The German said in the press conference for this weekends race, “We had the ambition and target to win the championship, and we didn’t. I think it’s just an honest reflection. I don’t think saying it out loud changes anything.”
“We were up against a very strong team-driver combination, but our goal was to be stronger than that and in that regard, we failed. There are reasons for it; we had good races, bad races, sometimes were close, sometimes were far away.”
“There’s a lot of reasons why, but in the big picture… I don’t think it’s unfair, it’s just the truth, nothing wrong with saying it out loud.”
Vettel’s errors in both 2017 and 2018 are seen as missed opportunities, and Hockenheim 2018, when he crashed out when leading in the wet is where things started to go wrong. It has handed Lewis Hamilton two titles.
On whether that was a fair assumption, Vettel said: “No, I think it was pretty much a roller-coaster ride over the years with a lot of things happening. In terms of momentum in that year, it wasn’t helping.”
“The mistake was a little mistake, with a huge outcome, a huge penalty. There were definitely more things happening.”
On 2018, he believes it couldn’t be put down to a single reason, it was marked by the death of president Sergio Marchionne as well as a change in leadership from Maurizio Arrivabene to Mattia Binotto.
Perez gets congratulations from Red Bull
Sergio Perez has revealed that he received congratulatory messages from several Formula One bosses, including Red Bull’s, after his stunning maiden victory in Bahrain last weekend.
The Mexican who is still without a drive next year has been linked to Red Bull after being dropped by Racing Point. Red Bull appears to be the only option for Perez to remain in F1, but in recent weeks the team has been talking up the chances of Albon remaining with the team.
However, Perez did admit that the team he hopes to join had been in touch to congratulate him. At the press conference for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, he said, “I had congratulations messages pretty much from most of the team bosses in Formula One, including Helmut [Marko].”
Marko is Red Bull’s motorsport advisor and has a huge say on their driver line-up – and when they will confirm it. Perez says he doesn’t know when Red Bull will make their decision but claims he is no longer in a rush, given the season is coming to an end and his other options have gone.
Perez added, “They will make a decision at some point after the weekend. I don’t know when that will be. There’s not a lot of hurry anymore, it’s the end of the year, and it’s where we are.”
Perez has made it clear that if he misses out on the Red Bull seat, he will take a sabbatical and return to the grid in 2022. He also admits its been difficult not being in control of his own future, and that any human being in this position would struggle a bit.
Haas taking Mazepin groping incident seriously
Haas team principal Gunther Steiner says the team is taking the incident with Nikita Mazepin “very seriously”, but has asked for privacy as it addresses the matter.
A video uploaded briefly to 2021 Haas driver Mazepin’s Instagram account showed him groping a woman’s chest in the back of a car. Although the Russian has deleted the post it has been captured and shared on social media.
Speaking at the press conference for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Steiner stressed the team was taking the matter incredibly seriously. He told Motorsport.com, “We take it very seriously, as you saw with what we sent out [in the statement].”
“I just want to reinforce that, that we will deal with it. I’m not going into detail on what we’ll do and how we’ll do it, but we take it seriously, and we will work to sort this out, what happened. Nothing more to say.”
Mazepin was also involved in an incident in the F2 Sakhir Grand Prix, which earnt him two points on his licence, one more early next year will lead to a race ban.
Mazepin was also banned for a European Formula 3 race in 2016 after punching Callum Ilott, who was left with cuts and swelling to his jaw.
Asked if Haas needed to talk to Mazepin about his general conduct, Steiner replied: “That is part of it, what we’re going to speak to him about privately. I don’t want to go public on how we are doing this. I just go back, I don’t want to comment any more.
Mazepin behaviour in the spotlight
Liberty Media and the FIA have issued a joint statement supporting Haas on its response to Nikita Mazepin’s behaviour in a video that emerged on Wednesday.
Mazepin issued a statement himself, saying that he must “hold myself to a higher standard as a Formula One driver” and “to apologise for my recent actions”.
On Thursday morning, the FIA and F1 released a joint statement in support of Haas and issuing a reminder of their commitment to inclusivity within the series.
The statement said “We strongly support the Haas F1 Team in its response to the recent inappropriate actions of its driver, Nikita Mazepin. Mazepin has issued a public apology for his poor conduct and this matter will continue to be dealt with internally by the Haas F1 Team.”
“The ethical principles and diverse and inclusive culture of our sport are of the utmost importance to the FIA and Formula 1.”
Haas has described the video as “abhorrent” and no further comment would be made at this time while it deals with the matter internally.
The woman tagged in the video that was uploaded posted a message to Instagram shortly after Haas stated to say it was “nothing serious at all”.
She wrote “I posted this video on his story as an internal joke. I am truly sorry. I can give you my word he’s a really good person and he would never do anything to hurt me or humiliate me.”
Melbourne planning strict biosphere
Motorsport.com says it has learnt that a strict biosphere is likely to be needed for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix. This weekend, teams are facing the tightest restrictions of the season, with paddock personnel arriving on charter planes and limited in their movement between allocated hotels and the circuit.
Australia has one of the strictest restrictions which has effectively banned international travel to the country since March, and all arrivals must quarantine for two weeks in a hotel.
Motorsport.com understands plans are underway for an F1 biosphere in Melbourne for next March’s AGP, to avoid crews and drivers spending 14 days locked in a hotel before the season-opening race.
Movement between bio-secure hotels and the paddock is likely to be tightly controlled, with anybody joining the bubble needing to undergo 14 days of hotel quarantine after the event if they want free access to the rest of the country.
This is likely to mainly affect Australia-based event personnel – including some Australian Grand Prix Corporation staff and volunteer race officials.
Governing body Motorsport Australia has begun to canvas ‘Profile 1’ officials, who may need to quarantine for four days before the event and take a COVID-19 test to be allowed into the bubble in the first place.
Anywhere from 25 to 75 of the 1000-odd officials could fall into the Profile 1 category, the roles covering anyone working in the pitlane, the F1 paddock or race control.
The ‘Profile 2’ officials, including those working on support categories and flag marshals, won’t need to join the bubble. The support category paddocks, including Supercars, will fall outside the bubble, as will the national media centre that operates outside of the F1 paddock.
Although these plans have not been finalised there are several scenarios being looked at.
A season like no other
The final race in a season like no other takes place in Abu Dhabi this weekend. A season which saw eleven of the twenty-one races cancelled leading to a dramatic seventeen race calendar in twenty-four weeks across Europe and the Middle East.
The final race sees the sunset on a record-breaking year two weeks later than planned around Yas Marina. Its marks the latest finish to a Grand Prix season since South Africa in 1963, which took place just after Christmas.
There is still all to play for, third in the constructor’s championship following an eventful fortnight in Bahrain there is still key positions to be settled in both the drivers and constructors championship. the conclusion to the season-long fight for third in the Constructors’ Championship is the battle of consequence still raging into Abu Dhabi.
Ferrari’s poor season means millions are up for grabs for either Racing Point, McLaren or Renault if they can secure third, marking the first time that the big three have not finished in the top three since 2015. Sergio Perez’s win in Shakir has put Racing Point in pole position for that third place, but they are just ten points ahead of McLaren.
Renault is still mathematically in the hunt, twenty-two points behind, although would require a bigger points swing than at any event so far this season to swing it their way.
Ferrari’s poor 2020 has put them sixth, barring a freak result setting them up for their worst season since 1981.
While second place is still mathematically up for grabs, Max Verstappen needs to outscore Valtteri Bottas by sixteen points. But that appears unlikely as Mercedes have won every Abu Dhabi Grand Prix with one
Its also about the battle for fourth in the driver’s championship, Sergio Perez’s win in Sakhir has put him thirteen points ahead of Daniel Ricciardo.
Charles Leclerc, Carlos Sainz, Alex Albon and Lando Norris are separated by eleven points and effectively fighting for positions six through nine.
Abu Dhabi is also Vettel’s Ferrari bow after six years – with Sainz saying goodbye to McLaren to join the Scuderia for 2021, and Ricciardo saying goodbye to Renault to join McLaren.
Binotto missing Abu Dhabi with non-coronavirus related illness
Ferrari team Mattia Binotto will skip this weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix through a non-coronavirus related illness. The Italian has missed several races this season as teams look to rotate staff next season with a twenty-three race calendar.
After returning to the F1 paddock for last weekend’s Sakhir Grand Prix, Binotto is understood to have become ill while he was still in Bahrain, and will fly directly back to Italy.
Team sources have assured Autosport that Binotto has not contracted COVID-19, but is instead suffering from a simple indisposition. It means the reins for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend will be again handed over to Ferrari F1 sporting director, Laurent Mekies.
Mekies has been running the team on the ground in Istanbul and Bahrain, while Binotto has been working from Maranello. Ferrari explained last month they had to look after its staff and prevent them from burning out to maintain the “right level of efficiency, concentration and focus” in light of the record-breaking 23-race calendar proposed for next year.
He said at Imola, “Considering myself, you need to balance your tasks at the race track and at the factory. The factory is important, where we are developing the car and preparing the cars.”
“For myself, I think I will not be at all the races. Even in 2020 I am considering skipping some of the races in the last part of the season, starting from Turkey.”
Ferrari heads into this weekend’s Abu Dhabi season finale sitting sixth in the constructors’ championship, with lead driver Charles Leclerc also sixth in the drivers’ standings.
The weekend ahead
Mercedes are going to be the team to beat historically this has been a good race for the team with the best downforce and speed. It will be interesting if Lewis Hamilton can come out the box fighting following illness and how will Valtteri Bottas respond.
George Russell returns to Williams, can he take back something which helps him score his first points for the team.
Red Bull are likely to be too far away, this circuit has too many long straights and that has been their weakness this year. I think unless things go wrong like last week, Mercedes can’t be beaten.
Red Bull are likely to be fighting for positions with Racing Point, they should be strong as their car is largely based on last year’s Mercedes. This is a power and downforce circuit, which means its going to be difficult for Ferrari
You can join us for LIVE coverage of this weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix via Twitter @FormulaOneVault with FP1 12:45 local / 08:45 GMT and race coverage on Sunday, 16:40/12:40 lights out 17:10 / 13:10