Dubai: Lewis Hamilton, the record-breaking greatest driver in Formula One history, is now in his own race against time to bring the curtain down on his monumental 2020 season in person as he awaits a COVID-19 all-clear.
The British Mercedes driver is desperate to get fit in time for his date with destiny, where he can take the acclaim for his coronation as world champion for a seventh time at Yas Marina Circuit on Sunday at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Hamilton missed Sunday’s dramatic Sakhir Grand Prix, in which the seven-time champion’s substitute George Russell excelled. Russell is again on stand-by for Abu Dhabi, but Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff said that Hamilton’s condition was improving every day.
However, he also erred on the side of caution as he warned Hamilton had to complete a full recovery and return a negative coronavirus test result by Thursday. If not, super-sub Russell, on loan from Williams, would take his seat again.
“If Lewis recovers — and he is getting better every day — and he is being considered COVID-free and negative then he will be fine,” said Wolff. “I think we need to see how well Lewis recovers.
“That’s the most important — that he’s well — and he says he’s a bit better so he’s made a big step. If the test is negative, it’s his car and then, I am sure, he will drive a brilliant race. But, if the test in Abu Dhabi is positive, then George is in the car.”
Meanwhile, Hamilton’s beleaguered teammate Valtteri Bottas — who was outclassed by rookie Russell in practice and during the race at Sakhir — admitted he was made to look “like a fool” by Mercedes.
The Mercedes pair finished eighth and ninth, with Bottas ahead, after an action-filled race, but it was Russell who shone as he had a stunning maiden victory taken from him by a bungled Mercedes pit-stop and then a heartbreaking late puncture as he fought back into contention, despite his pit team’s clanger.
Bottas, who started from pole position, lost the lead at the start and struggled to mount a challenge as the young Briton showed pace and poise at the front for 62 laps.
“If you don’t know things, I might have looked like a complete fool, so that’s not nice,” said Bottas. “But the people who know, they know how the performance was and how the end result could have been.
“It was a pretty bad race for me and it’s easy for people to say that a new guy comes in and he beats the guy who has been in the team a few years — so it was not ideal.
“I knew that in the first stint, with the medium tyre, that the track position would be important so obviously it was unfortunate to lose that. But in the second stint, I was catching him at a pretty decent rate.”
Bottas’s bid to respond to Russell was undone when they both pitted during a safety-car period and Mercedes shambollically muddled up their tyres, with Russell being released with a mixture of medium and hard tyres on the same car. To add to the chaos, Bottas then had to have his old wheels put back on as the team realised their error and only had three fresh ones of the same compound ready for him.
“It’s hard to explain the feeling when you come to a pit stop and you leave with the same old tyres that you came in with — and then lose positions,” said the Finn. “Obviously, a big mistake from the team that will be analysed and learnt from — it was a nightmare being on the old tyres that had lost temperature. I was like a sitting duck.”
2020 Drivers’ Championship standings
1. L. Hamilton, Mercedes, 332
2. V. Bottas, Mercedes, 205
3. M. Verstappen, Red Bull, 189
4. S. Perez, Racing Point, 125
5. D. Ricciardo, Renault, 112
6. C. Leclerc, Ferrari, 98
7. C. Sainz, McLaren, 97
8. A. Albon, Red Bull, 93
9. L. Norris, McLaren, 87
10. L. Stroll, Racing Point, 74
2020 Constructors’ Championship standings
1. Mercedes, 540 pts
2. Red Bull, 282
3. Racing Point, 194
4. McLaren, 184
5. Renault, 172
6. Ferrari, 131
7. Alphatauri, 103
8. Alfa Romeo, 8
9. Haas, 3
10. Williams, 0