Before the onset of Sakhir GP and after the dramatic Bahrain GP weekend concluded, some news came that shocked almost everybody. The recently crowned seven-times world champion, Lewis Hamilton tested positive for the dreaded Corona Virus.
Now the biggest question was who would drive in his place, taking the place of a 7-time world champion is no joke. After a day or two, we came to know that the Willaims Racing driver and Mercedes-Petronas ex-test driver George Russell was the chosen one.
Why was he chosen over the Mercedes-AMG Reserve Stoffel Vandoorne, what is the effect on the grid, and what are the safety protocols that teams have to abide by in this crisis?
At the start of the season, it was decided that all the races will be organized behind closed doors, i.e. no spectators will be allowed.
After some races, F1 opened its doors for a limited amount of spectators. At first motor homes were also restricted to restrict the amount of spread. Later on, they were also allowed.
The media personnel are restricted to enter the pits and paddocks. All the interviews that occur are required to have proper safety norms like masks and social distancing. The amount of media personnel allowed is also controlled.
Teams are also operating with a restricted amount of crew, a maximum of 80, and precautions like masks are compulsory to follow. Also, the crews of different teams are not allowed to make contact with each other and have to remain in a ‘Social bubble’ to limit the interaction between groups hence limiting the transmission.
Also, anyone attending the GP or with access to the paddock is required to take a pre-event Covid test. It is done through a Nasal test and Throat swab test by a licensed company, Eurofins.
How did Hamilton realize he had contracted the virus and what were the precautions taken?
Lewis was tested 3 times last week before the Bahrain GP weekend, with all 3 returning negative result. Waking up Monday morning he was suffering from mild symptoms and was informed that a contact before arrival to Bahrain had tested positive. When he was tested subsequently, it returned positive.
This ruled him out for competing in the next race, i.e. Sakhir GP. He is currently following isolation of 10 days according to the Bahraini protocols. So are the members of his team bubble who came in regular contact with him, especially his psychologist, Angella Cullen and his advisor Marc Hynes. After the completion of isolation, he will be tested again and will be allowed to return on getting a negative result.
Selection of George Russell
As Stoffel Vandoorne is the reserve driver for Mercedes, he could have driven instead of Lewis. That would have been the most obvious choice. But knowing the brilliant Toto Wolff, he always does something far from obvious. He analyzed the whole scenario and also thought about the future.
Hamilton was taken down after he had won his championship, and with just 4 days to go, Mercedes had a green flag to think bigger.
George Russell has always been viewed as a part of Mercedes long term plan when he was a part of Mercedes young driver program. It was always questioned when he would get the big call up.
But this has happened a lot sooner than expected. The pressure is also on Bottas. Should Russell do a stupendous job, achieve pole and a win, it will just make the ongoing discussion of Bottas being not suitable for Mercedes interesting.
Even if he comes second or provides a subpar result, he will be returning as a stronger driver to Williams. But one should keep in mind that Russell is an excellent driver, which he has proved by winning the Formula 2 championship for ART in 2018.
The changes in grid at the Sakhir GP
As George Russell prepares himself for his big jump from what can be called the worst car on the grid to what is possibly the best, somebody had to drive in his seat.
It was announced that Jack Aitken, the Williams reserve driver would drive instead of Russell. Jack Aitken is a driver for Campos Racing in F2 and also formerly a part of Renault Sport Academy.
Also, somebody had to drive in place of Romain Grosjean, who would be unable to drive due to his horrific Bahrain GP accident. Haas Announced that their reserve driver and the Grandson of 2-time F1 champion Emmerson Fittipaldi, Pietro Fittipaldi would drive for them at the Sakhir GP.
The 24-year-old has previously tested 2018 and 2019 Haas cars, but this would be his first taste of 2020 car.
With all these changes, one can say without a doubt that the 2020 Sakhir GP is going to be an exciting one, especially George Russell’s handling of the stupendous Mercedes W11.
All these things proves that the British driver, Lewis Hamilton a.k.a. LH44 made the world of Formula 1 boring. Because just one news and the whole sport turned excited!
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Written by – Tanay Lavingia
Compiled by – Tirth Pandya