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Aston Martin delays decision on Vettel

Nico Hulkenberg remains on standby for Aston Martin this weekend as Sebastian Vettel fails to return a negative test for COVID.

Having tested positive ahead of the Bahrain Grand Prix, Hulkenberg – who had not driven an F1 car since the Eifel Grand Prix in October 2020 – was brought in as an 11th hour replacement for Vettel.

Qualifying 17th, the German finished the race in the same position, a result that said more about the car than his own efforts.

This morning, as the teams and drivers prepare for tomorrow’s opening practice sessions at Jeddah, Aston Martin issued a brief statement.

“Sebastian Vettel has not yet returned the required negative COVID test to fly to the Saudi Arabian GP,” it read. “Nico Hulkenberg will be in Jeddah to deputise for Seb if necessary.

“We will delay our final decision until Friday to provide Seb every opportunity to race.”

“We don’t know yet,” said Hulkenberg in Bahrain when asked if he would continue to deputise for his countryman. “I think it’s a matter of waiting a couple of days, seeing how Seb is.

“If he’s fit to race or not, I’ll be in the area anyway, to be ready and on standby,” he added.

Asked about the Bahrain weekend, he admitted: “It was interesting. It was difficult, very difficult to be honest, being the first time (racing) obviously in a long, long time.

“There’s so many things happening in the race, it’s so dynamic, the car balance is changing, the fuel load is changing, so it’s difficult to keep up with all these changes and stay on top of things.

“So, it was difficult. I didn’t really have one big mistake, I think I out-braked myself once trying to overtake someone and from then onwards it seemed to get a bit more difficult for me. But yes, it was always going to be tough to expect much more than that.”

Following Vettel’s withdrawal from the Bahrain weekend, drivers were asked if there might come a point where they could race despite testing positive.

“It’s a tricky question,” admitted Charles Leclerc, who tested positive shortly after last year’s post-season test in Abu Dhabi. “As things are at the moment obviously it’s impossible to do that because in some places we cannot race having COVID.

“Then, for sure, if there are some places where we will be able to race with COVID then things might change. But yeah, the way things are at the moment I definitely wouldn’t do that.”

“Naturally as a driver you always want to race and you would say ‘yes, we should be allowed to race’,” added Max Verstappen, “but I think you should also ask a medical expert about it, what is allowed and what isn’t and then work together with the FIA to see what’s possible and what is allowed in the future, but at the moment it’s a bit difficult to tell.”

“I’ve had it twice. She likes me,” laughed Lance Stroll. “I think we know so much about the virus now, I think there are ways of being very cautious and responsible, you know, whilst having COVID and still competing. I think there are ways of being, isolating yourself, putting your helmet on in your room and minimising completely contact with everyone. There are ways to do that.

“I do think I could compete with it. Yes, I was just a little cold when I had it and you know I think the main thing is really like I said earlier I think it’s watching out and being responsible around elderly people and I think that that is everyone’s responsibility when they go visit their grandparents or older people. Get tested, wear your mask, be very safe and be responsible. But I think there comes a point where we can’t stop the rest of our lives and we have to continue living and you know find a balance where we have some normality in our world.”

“Physically clearly there was no problem,” said Pierre Gasly, who tested positive last January. “I got tested after having done like an 18km run and I never felt as good as it did at the time and I was kind of in shock when I got the news and after that I was still feeling fine. Different to Lance, I haven’t had any symptoms at all and obviously physically it would not have been any problem. You have to be responsible.

“At the end of the day scientists and doctors if they believe that there would not be any problem then I think we should go ahead because what you don’t want, as a driver I don’t want my championship to be impacted by this virus. I think it has been hard enough over the past two years. When you see Seb’s situation, missing the first race of the season, it might affect his final position at the end of the year and you don’t want the championship to be decided on whether he missed a race or not if he was tested positive. Yeah, it’s a tricky one but as Lance said, now we have learned so much more about that virus, how to be more careful and cautious about it and I am sure there will be ways to still race as long as everybody is safe and everybody is comfortable with it.”

“There was no way I could have raced when I had it,” argued Lewis Hamilton. “I was very, very sick. And even when I came back, just on the tail end of it, I barely made it through the race.

“I just actually messaged Seb because it is sad not to see him here. I hope that he is OK. I know Daniel was heavily affected by it. It is strange that… Obviously the world is getting more and more used to having it and you less and less of it on the news. Actually I never see any of it on the news anymore, but it is still around us and I think we will still need to take precautions, continue to wear masks and continue to stay safe and keep others safe.

“If we all stop wearing our masks and everyone in the garage gets it, everyone is going to be sick and it will affect people differently. Some people don’t even know they have it and some people get really ill. So, it’s better just not to take the risk for now and also I think just as a sport and how we appear in terms of the message we are sending people out there I think it’s important that we continue to keep our masks.”

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