F1: Vettel Out of Season Opener With COVID, Hulkenberg Taking His Seat
Vettel is the second driver this week to test positive, joining Daniel Ricciardo.
Try as the world might to pretend that it has, the coronavirus pandemic hasn't gone away. That's been sharply flagged in the Formula 1 paddock this week after two drivers have tested positive during the run-up to the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix. Sebastian Vettel is the latest case and will be replaced by Nico Hülkenberg for the first round of the 2022 season.
Hülkenberg was a full-time F1 driver for (most of) 2010 to 2019 but was dropped by Renault in 2020 in favor of Esteban Ocon. He then fell into a reserve role for the team then known as Racing Point—now Aston Martin—and was called on twice during 2020 to replace first Sergio Perez and then Lance Stroll as each was diagnosed with COVID-19 and forced to sit out races. Hülkenberg continued the role for the rebranded Aston Martin team in 2021, without another call-up last season, but he will make a fresh debut at the Bahrain Grand Prix, replacing Vettel.
A statement today from the Aston Martin team said simply "Sebastian Vettel has tested positive for COVID-19 and will not therefore be taking part in the 2022 Bahrain Grand Prix:
"Replacing him in the AMR22 will be Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant Formula 1 Team reserve driver Nico Hülkenberg, who will be in the car from FP1 onwards."
Vettel is the seventh F1 driver to test positive for COVID-19 after Perez, Stroll, Lewis Hamilton, Lando Norris, Charles Leclerc, and Daniel Ricciardo, who has recovered this week in time to drive the Bahrain Grand Prix himself.
Ricciardo was taken ill following a photoshoot with fellow Grand Prix Drivers' Association members as a display of solidarity with Ukrainians and against the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Initially described as having a stomach bug, he eventually went into isolation after a positive test for COVID-19. He was standing next to Vettel for at least some of the shoot.
Ricciardo's teammate, Norris, who's probably the driver that had the most contact with him, had COVID-19 in January 2021. That's too long ago to totally rely on antibodies but may mean, especially given Norris is 22, that he had some resistance. For other drivers, like Vettel, that might not be the case even though all of them, by FIA rules, have to be fully vaccinated this year.
It took two days after Ricciardo fell ill for him to finally test positive but that doesn't mean he wasn't contagious on the first day in Bahrain. Given the number of drivers who were potentially exposed to him during the maskless shoot, it could be an interesting weekend in Bahrain for more than just the start of a new, exciting season.
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