COVID-hit Vettel out of Bahrain GP, Hulkenberg to race

Germany’s Nico Hulkenberg will replace compatriot Sebastian Vettel in Formula One’s Bahrain season-opener after the four times world champion tested positive for COVID-19, Aston Martin said on Thursday.

“Sebastian Vettel has tested positive for COVID-19 and will not therefore be taking part in the 2022 Bahrain Grand Prix,” the team said in a statement. Practice for Sunday’s race starts on Friday.

Hulkenberg is the team’s reserve driver and has stood in for them three times already since he last raced full time in Formula One with Renault in 2019.

The 34-year-old replaced Mexican Sergio Perez twice and Canadian Lance Stroll once in 2020 when the Silverstone-based team competed as Racing Point, with both drivers testing positive for COVID-19.

His last race was the 2020 Eifel Grand Prix at the Nuerburgring, when he replaced Stroll.

The 2015 Le Mans 24 Hours winner has started 179 Formula One grands prix, without standing on the podium, in a career that began with Williams in 2010 and included stints with Aston Martin’s predecessors Force India.

He holds the F1 record for most starts without a top three finish.

Sunday’s race is the start of a new era for Formula One, with a major aerodynamic revamp and the cars heavier and with bigger tyres.

Vettel is the second driver to test positive for COVID-19 this month, with McLaren’s Australian Daniel Ricciardo due to return to the paddock later on Thursday after a period of isolation.

Formula One has relaxed its previously tight COVID-19 protocols this season.

The Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in Jeddah follows on from Bahrain next week and there was no word from Aston Martin about plans for that race.

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