The candidates to replace Hamilton for the Sakhir GP
By James Pavey
Wednesday 2nd December, 2020 - 12:04pm
The news of Lewis Hamilton’s positive COVID-19 test has thrown the Formula 1 paddock into action, with Mercedes looking to decide on a replacement for this weekend’s Sakhir Grand Prix
The 35-year-old will isolate for 10 days, forcing Hamilton into a race against time to be available for next weekend’s season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
A logical replacement choice is the team’s reserve driver, Stoffel Vandoorne, who flew to Bahrain following this week’s Formula E test at Valencia.
The Belgian drove for McLaren on a full-time basis between 2017 and 2018, and also subbed for Fernando Alonso at the 2016 Bahrain Grand Prix after the Spaniard withdrew due to concussion sustained in a crash in Australia.
Vandoorne, who shares reserve driver duties with Esteban Gutiérrez, has already had a seat fitting with Mercedes, and has also done extensive testing in the Mercedes simulator.
Another option for Mercedes is George Russell, with the Williams driver also having had a seat fitting with the team.
Russell tested for Mercedes at last year’s post-season test in Abu Dhabi, with his three-year Williams deal being viewed with an eye on a possible move to Mercedes in the future.
Crucially, the 22-year-old has an active understanding of the current-spec Pirelli tyres.
Should Russell be vaulted to the Mercedes seat, Williams would likely hand reserve driver Jack Aitken his F1 race debut.
Aitken will be in the Bahrain paddock this weekend, considering he is set to race in the F2 season finale. He also ran this year’s Williams in free practice at the Styrian Grand Prix in July.
While Russell is under contract to race with Williams, Mercedes could negotiate a loan deal to see the Briton replace his countryman in the seat.
An outside option remains Nico Hulkenberg, who impressively stood in for Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll at Racing Point while both were unavailable.
It was later confirmed Stroll had tested negative for coronavirus but later returned a positive test upon which time he began self-isolating.
Hulkenberg scored 10 points in two races at Silverstone and the Nurburgring, and also understands the Mercedes power unit which Racing Point uses.
Mercedes is expected to make its decision on Wednesday.