Lewis Hamilton not 100% in return from COVID-19

Hamilton not 100 COVID
Clive Mason/Formula 1 via Getty Images

In his first race back after missing one week due to testing positive for novel coronavirus (COVID-19), Lewis Hamilton continues to suffer with the aftermath of virus symptoms and admits he is not 100 percent. He failed to top a single session in preliminary action for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Hamilton will not sit on the front row for the Abu Dhabi GP for only the second time in his 12-race career. He qualified third behind Max Verstappen and teammate Valtteri Bottas.

“I’m not 100 percent,” Hamilton admitted after final practice. “I still have some feeling within my lungs, but nonetheless, normally I would drive if one of my arms was hanging off; that’s what we do as racing drivers. It definitely won’t be the easiest of races physically, but I will manage and give it everything I’ve got.

“One of the [COVID-19] symptoms is it really drains you. I’ve been trying to sleep as much as I can, but recharging is not as easy as it perhaps normally has been in the past. I lost a good amount of weight just in that week, so as I said not 100 percent the last time I raced, but it’s by no means going to get in the way of me going out and giving my all tomorrow.”

In his first laps on the track Friday, Hamilton struggled with a brake sensor that needed repair. The limited track time contributed to his posting only the fifth fastest time.

“It felt like I’d spent a lot of time away from the car; it was very odd,” Hamilton said at Formula1.com after his uneven Friday. “It was about refamiliarizing myself with the car. The car was not quite the way it was when I left it, in the sense that the balance wasn’t the same that I had got to previously, but I am working my way back to where I am comfortable with it.”

Then Hamilton had trouble finding the right gear in the pits before the second practice session. He improved considerably, but still finished behind teammate Valtteri Bottas by 0.200 seconds.

Hamilton described Friday’s sessions as messy.

“It’s definitely been a bit of a messy day,” he continued. “There’s a lot going on and the guys have been on the road for three weeks. We’ve had a couple of gremlins, but we punched through them like we always do and tomorrow, I know, will be better.”

But the day did not start better.

On Saturday morning, Hamilton’s problems returned. Red Bull Racing topped the chart with Verstappen and Alexander Albon first and second respectively. Renault snagged the next two positions: Daniel Ricciardo was third with Esteban Ocon fourth. Hamilton was well down the order in sixth despite making six stints on course. That was the greatest number of sessions among all competitors.

Hamilton was 0.761 seconds off of Verstappen’s pace. His teammate Bottas was worse, landing ninth on the chart 0.834 seconds behind the leader.

In the first qualification session, Hamilton continued to struggle to find rhythm. He went wide multiple times in the opening laps. At one point he bounced hard off the curbing and scrapped the tumble strips badly enough to ask the team to check the undercarriage when he returned to the garage.

With his first two laps disallowed for going off track, Hamilton put in a ‘banker lap’ with four minutes remaining on the clock. He eased through the final turn and landed eighth on the grid .970 seconds behind Bottas in an effort to insure that he advanced to Q2.

Hamilton got back on track with time running off the clock. He leapt to the top of the grid by 0.171 seconds.

The second qualification session was much less dramatic. Hamilton landed on top of the board quickly and it seemed he had put the earlier problems in the rear view mirror.

In his final run of the final qualification session, Hamilton went wide in a couple of corners causing the loss of a fraction of a second. He was beaten for the pole by 0.086 seconds by Verstappen. Bottas took the outside pole with a 0.061 advantage on Hamilton. Those three drivers easily beat fourth-place Lando Norris by a quarter of a second.

“It’s definitely been a difficult weekend,” Hamilton added. “Just getting back in to the rhythm. Even though it’s only been a couple of weeks off it just felt like I lost that momentum and I really struggled so far with the balance this weekend.”