Nico Hulkenberg replacing Sergio Perez
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Nico Hulkenberg will replace Sergio Perez with Racing Point at British GP

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SILVERSTONE, England — Nico Hulkenberg made an unexpected return Friday to Formula One, replacing Sergio Perez after the Racing Point driver tested positive for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) ahead of the British Grand Prix on Sunday.

Hulkenberg, 32, lost his seat at Renault for this season so was available when Racing Point team principal Otmar Szafnauer made the call.

Just in time.

“One, we had to find him, and then we had to get him to England, then we needed a super licence and then we needed a negative virus test,” Szafnauer said. “So a lot of things had to happen, and it came together with about 15 minutes to go.”

The German was immediately back in action for the first time since November, finishing ninth in first practice on Friday at Silverstone, where no fans are attending because of the pandemic restrictions.

In the second practice, Hulkenberg improved to seventh in a session that was led by his Racing Point teammate, Lance Stroll.

After finishing fourth two weeks ago at the Hungarian GP, Stroll was 0.09 seconds ahead of Red Bull driver Alexander Albon (who later crashed). Valtteri Bottas was third for Mercedes, ahead of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton.

Hulkenberg said he got the call to be at Silverstone while he was on his way to the Nurburgring for another racing project.

“That was less than 24 hours ago, so it feels a bit surreal for me right now, but I like a good challenge, and this is certainly one,” Hulkenberg said. “It’s obviously a difficult situation for Racing Point and Checo. He’s a buddy of mine, an old teammate, and I wish him a speedy recovery. I’ll step in and try do the best I can for the team.”

It will be Hulkenberg’s 178th Grand Prix.

“Having to find a replacement for Sergio at short notice is no easy task,” Szafnauer said, “but in Nico we’ve got a fantastic supersub who the team knows very well. He’s certainly being thrown in at the deep end, but he’s a fast learner and I’m sure he will get up to speed quickly.”

Perez believes he picked up the virus on a trip home to Mexico between the Hungarian and British races to visit his mother after she had an accident.

He tested positive Thursday for COVID-19 and has to go into isolation that also should rule him out of next week’s race at Silverstone.

“I’m extremely sad – definitely one of the saddest days in my career,” Perez said. “The amount of preparation we put into this weekend to be 100% ready, I knew I had a great car underneath me, that the team had done a fantastic job.”

Reporting no symptoms of the virus, Perez said it was a reminder how vulnerable everyone is to becoming infected.

“After Hungary I took a private plane to Mexico to see my mum for two days because she had a big accident. So as soon as she left hospital I was able to see her,” he said. “Then I came back to Europe, same way, with all the protocols in place. And I just got it, I don’t know from where.”

Sergio Perez still has coronavirus; will miss second consecutive F1 race

F1 Sergio Perez out
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SILVERSTONE, England — Sergio Perez will be out for a second F1 race at Silverstone this week after again testing positive for the coronavirus.

The Mexican driver had hoped to return to Formula One after spending seven days in quarantine, but his Racing Point team said this morning he had tested positive.

“He is physically well and recovering,” the team said. “The whole team wishes Sergio and his family well and we look forward to his return.”

That means German veteran Nico Hulkenberg again fills in for Sunday’s 70th Anniversary Grand Prix after having also replaced Sergio Perez when he was out for the F1 British Grand Prix at the same venue last week. Hulkenberg did not start that race because of an engine problem.

There are two consecutive weekends of racing at Silverstone as Formula One tries to pack in races following the pandemic-delayed start to the season.

Perez became the first Formula One driver to test positive for coronavirus, and it had been unclear whether he would be available to drive after the period of quarantine was extended to 10 days.

Racing Point also was in the news Friday after being hit with a 15-point penalty in the Formula One constructors’ championship and fined 400,000 euros ($470,000) Friday for using brake ducts based on those from last year’s Mercedes cars.

The stewards ruled that Mercedes was the “principal designer” of the parts, and that Racing Point made only minor changes to computer design data it received from Mercedes.

Rival team Renault filed protests about the legality of the brake ducts, which were added to the “listed parts” under F1 rules for 2020. That means teams must design their own. Racing Point argued it was merely using information about the Mercedes parts to inform its own design.

Racing Point uses customer engines from Mercedes and has admitted basing its 2020 car design on photographs of last year’s Mercedes car. The similarities led to the Racing Point being nicknamed the “pink Mercedes” when it was first seen in testing ahead of the season.

Racing Point can appeal the ruling. The points deduction drops the team from fifth to sixth in the standings, below Renault. The ruling doesn’t affect the points totals for Racing Point’s drivers.