Racing Point boss Otmar Szafnauer says Nico Hulkenberg is only confirmed for the British Grand Prix so far because the team is not sure Sergio Perez is ruled out of Formula 1’s second Silverstone race.
Perez has become the first F1 driver to contract COVID-19 and is now in isolation, observing the UK government’s coronavirus guidelines, so Racing Point has drafted in Hulkenberg as a last-minute replacement.
However, the UK’s guidelines changed on Thursday, increasing the period a person must spend in quarantine from seven days to 10.
Szafnauer says Perez’s negative test was taken on Wednesday, so clarification is needed over whether Perez must serve a week’s isolation as that was the rule at the time of the test.
That is considered unlikely but even if it proves to be the case, Perez would not be able to just return to the paddock next Thursday.
He would need a negative COVID-19 test proving he no longer carries the virus.
Another uncertainty is there is no clear answer on whether Perez could bypass the isolation period if he takes another test early next week and is no longer positive for COVID-19.
However unlikely that scenario may be, a negative test would logically override the need to keep isolating – but if F1 and the FIA have to cede to the UK’s guidelines, these simply demand that the full quarantine period is observed.
Racing Point is avoiding a formal commitment until the situation has been clarified with the local health authority.
“So, if it’s certain that he’s out for two then Nico will drive in both races,” said Szafnauer.
“But the reason for it is there is a bit of uncertainty and we’re still not sure if it is seven or 10 days.
“He tested positive on Wednesday and I believe but I’m not 100% sure that on Wednesday the restriction set by England was seven days of quarantine. Not 10.
“I’m still unsure. If it’s 10 days then Nico will drive both events.
“If it’s seven days that’s only one of the hurdles, the other hurdle is he’s got to have negative tests as well.
“If the virus is still in the system and he [Perez] tests positive then Nico again will be driving in the second Silverstone race.”
It emerged that Perez travelled back to Mexico, which has a high rate of COVID infection, between the Hungarian GP and the British round to visit his mother who had been in hospital.
Other drivers also returned home in Europe, and Szafnauer said there was no issue with Perez making his trip because he was trusted to follow the safety guidelines.
“We’ve got no clauses in the contract where he’s got to ask permission to go back to his family,” he said, dismissing the prospect of consequences for Perez triggering a missed grand prix.
“I don’t think Checo did anything wrong going back to his family, he takes all the precautions. It’s no different than Ferrari going back to Italy” :: Otmar Szafnauer
“I think his family was in Mexico and it’s not a surprise that he went back to Mexico, that’s what he’s done for forever while he’s been driving for us.
“We did though discuss how he was flying there and back and it was always by private flight so never commercially.
“But there’s no issue with that.”
Szafnauer said different situations such as regions within the UK – including part of the country where Racing Point staff reside – being put on localised lockdowns mean it is difficult to rule on exactly where is safe to travel to.
“Our philosophy is we take all the precautions necessary in light of where we’re travelling and if we do take those precautions I’m confident that we won’t get the virus,” said Szafnauer.
“We just need to now forensically look back and try to ascertain how Checo became infected and make sure that we cover that off in the future.”
Perez’s personal assistant and his physio were both tested for COVID-19 given their proximity to the driver but tested negative.
They are isolating as well, while three members of the team who carried out a simulator session with Perez also tested negative – but are not at the track until a second negative test is produced.
Racing Point will then decide whether they are brought to the paddock or not.
Szafnauer conceded that it could be worth F1 reinforcing its bubble protocols, which currently stipulate how personnel should minimise their movements during events but not between them.
“Because we had that weekend off I think everybody went to wherever their families were,” he said.
“The Italian teams went back to Italy. Probably the Swiss teams went back to Switzerland, Pirelli probably went back to Italy and the drivers went to their home countries.
“Perhaps we should look at that, change the code and say throughout the season you stay within your bubble.
“I don’t know but that’s something for the FIA to consider.
“I read through the code a couple of times now and it is a living document so they said at the very beginning, from time to time as we learn this will change.
“So perhaps that’ll change, but I don’t think Checo did anything wrong going back to his family, he takes all the precautions.
“I think it’s no different than Ferrari going back to Italy for example.”