When Formula 1 drivers head to their cars for the start of the Sakhir Grand Prix, they will do so without a seven-time champion accompanying them. Lewis Hamilton, the winningest driver in the sport, has tested positive for COVID-19. He will miss Sunday's race while remaining in isolation, his first absence since the 2007 Australian Grand Prix.
According to a statement from the Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team, Hamilton had three negative tests in the week leading up to the Bahrain GP, his 11th win of the season. The final negative test came the afternoon of the race. However, Hamilton woke up on Monday and experienced "mild" symptoms. He also learned at the same time that a "contact prior to arrival" in Bahrain had also tested positive. He then took two more tests and confirmed that he had contracted the coronavirus.
"I'm devastated that I won't be racing this weekend," Hamilton wrote on Instagram. "Since we started the season in June, my team and I have been taking all the precautions we possibly can and following the regulations everywhere we've been in order to stay safe. Unfortunately, even though I returned three negative results this past week, I woke up yesterday morning with mild symptoms and requested another test which came back positive. I've immediately gone into self-isolation for ten days.
"I'm gutted not to be able to race this weekend but my priority is to follow the protocols and advice to protect others," he continued. "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."
With the news that Hamilton will miss Sunday's race and potentially the season finale in Abu Dhabi the following weekend, there are questions about who will temporarily replace him on the Mercedes team. Stoffel Vandoorne is listed as the replacement driver and will head to Bahrain to join the Mercedes F1 team.
The team also teased fellow driver Jenson Button potentially replacing Hamilton. He even promised that he "won't pee" in the driver's seat. Button, the 2009 F1 champion, previously partnered with Hamilton to form a very successful McLaren team but ultimately retired during the 2017 season.