Lewis Hamilton ‘devastated’ to miss Sunday’s race after testing positive for COVID-19

Lewis Hamilton COVID-19 positive
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SAKHIR, Bahrain — Seven-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton has tested positive for COVID-19 and will miss this weekend’s Sakhir Grand Prix in Bahrain

The Mercedes team said in a statement Tuesday that Hamilton was tested three times last week and returned a negative result each time, the last on Sunday afternoon before his victory at the Bahrain International Circuit.

“But he up woke Monday morning with mild symptoms and was informed at the same time that a contact prior to arrival in Bahrain had subsequently tested positive,” the team said. “Lewis, therefore, took a further test and returned a positive result. This has since been confirmed by a retest.”

In a social media post Tuesday, Hamilton wrote he was “devastated” to be sidelined, noting he and Mercedes had taken as many precautions as possible while following all protocols.

Hamilton said he had gone into self-isolation for 10 days, which would leave open the possibility for returning in the Dec. 13 season finale at Abu Dhabi. His absence from Sunday’s race (which will take place on a different layout at the same track in Bahrain) will snap a streak of 265 consecutive F1 starts for Hamilton, who made his debut in the 2007 season opener.

“I’m gutted not to be able to race this weekend, but my priority is to follow the protocols and advice to protect others,” Hamilton posted. “I’m really lucky that I feel OK with only mild symptoms and will do my best to stay fit and healthy.

“Please look after yourselves out there. You can never be too careful. These are worrying times for everyone, and we need to make sure we are looking after ourselves and each other. Stay positive.”

“Apart from mild symptoms, he is otherwise fit and well, and the entire team sends him its very best wishes for a swift recovery,” the team statement said.

Hamilton, 35, appeared to be drained at the end of the Bahrain GP, which was marred by an opening-lap crash that left Romain Grosjean with minor burns to his hands and ankles.

“It’s physical, this track has always been physical. We’ve got lots of high-speed corners so I was definitely feeling it,” Hamilton said after his 95th career victory. “I was sliding around a lot out there and I wasn’t really quite sure how it would play out at the end.”

Hamilton clinched the drivers’ championship last month in Turkey and has a big lead in the standings with 332 points, well ahead of Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas (201) and Max Verstappen (189).

He has won 11 races this season. But missing the Sakhir GP means he will not be able to win a 13th and equal Sebastian Vettel’s record, set in 2013 with Red Bull.

Hamilton also will miss out on reaching a 100th pole position. His pole last weekend was the record-extending 98th of his career.

The Mercedes team said it would announce a replacement driver later in the week. Reserve driver Stoffel Vandoorne already was scheduled to travel to Bahrain after Formula E testing in Valencia.

After clinching the championship in Turkey, Hamilton talked of how vigilant he’d been to avoid contracting COVID-19. In March, he posted a health update after being at an event attended by multiple celebrities who tested positive for COVID-19.

Hamilton is the third F1 driver to test positive for COVID-19 this season, following Sergio Perez (who missed two consecutive races at Silverstone) and Lance Stroll in Germany. Formula One administers thousands of tests before and during every race weekend, limiting paddock access to those who test negative.

Formula One organizers said Hamilton needs a negative test before being allowed to return to the F1 paddock and, therefore, remains a doubtful starter for the final race of the season in Abu Dhabi.

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed its new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with Ford Motor Co. in an event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and team principal Christian Horner.

It’s the first Formula 1 team to launch in the United States for 2023, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin, Texas, for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen already had wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
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Now Verstappen’s thoughts inevitably will turn to establishing a dynasty, and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his chief rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.