Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff says it is still feasible for Lewis Hamilton to return for next weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, although testing negative for COVID-19 in time is only one of the hurdles to overcome.
Hamilton tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday, which has trigged a mandatory 10-day isolation period in Bahrain.
Wolff has described Hamilton as still suffering from mild symptoms, so the first hurdle will be getting healthy and testing negative.
Then it will be a question of Mercedes, the FIA and the Abu Dhabi authorities agreeing a way to facilitate his entry into the emirate and have access to the Yas Marina circuit in order to participate.
“We have seen tests that were negative within 10 days, so I think that is perfectly feasible, in my opinion, but it would be a very positive development,” said Wolff when asked by The Race about the likelihood of Hamilton returning for the season finale.
“Nevertheless, you need to look at the situation because there are many athletes and sportspeople out there that have tested positive for a long time after any symptoms and after they’ve been in any way infectious.
“But this is something the FIA needs to look into anyway.”
In order to make hosting the grand prix possible given travel restrictions, F1 personnel must travel from Bahrain to Abu Dhabi on a series of charter flights that have been set up as a travel corridor in order to avoid the mandatory 14-day quarantine period for all arrivals.
Prior to travelling, it is also necessary to test negative for COVID-19.
Wolff’s reference to the FIA’s involvement means that if Hamilton does test negative, it will need the co-operation of the Abu Dhabi authorities to allow him in.
It seems reasonable to assume that a private plane could be argued as working in lieu of the charter flights and potentially allow Hamilton to make it to Abu Dhabi in time for Friday practice.
But currently, it is unclear what will be allowed even though it seems likely that arrangements would be made to permit Hamilton to participate presuming it is safe to do so.
However, the fact Wolff described it as a positive development suggests that it is not certain whether Hamilton will be able to test negative in time, which would be a pre-requisite of getting to Abu Dhabi, even though he is recovering.
Asked if Hamilton had followed the first practice session, Wolff replied: “I don’t know, probably not – he has better things to do than watching an FP1 session.
“He is recovering. I think those first few days are always critical once you catch corona and he’s OK. He has symptoms but they are relatively mild.”
Wolff was also asked whether Hamilton’s positive COVID-19 test could further delay the signing of the long-anticipated contract to keep the world champion at the team.
“The timeline is just being pushed back until he recovers,” said Wolff.
“We know that we need to get it done fully, both of us, but the priority now is getting back on his feet and being [COVID-19] negative. And then we will meet, or Zoom in order to put pen to paper.”
Wolff was asked if George Russell’s performance this weekend could feed into the contract negotiations by influencing Hamilton’s market value.
But Wolff denied the suggestion that Russell’s performance this weekend would be used by either party while negotiating the contract.
“No, because we have discussed having George in the car,” he said. “We know what we have with Lewis and he knows what he has with the team.
“Such a situation would never be utilised as some kind of bargaining power neither by him, nor by us – it could go both directions, and I respect very much, who he is, how he drives, his records, and whatever happens this weekend or next has no influence on our talks.”
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner was also asked to compare Russell’s situation this weekend and Verstappen’s victorious promotion to Red Bull at the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix in terms of the opportunity it presented and the instant delivery.
In answering that question, Horner suggested that Wolff would use a strong performance by Russell as leverage in the contract negotiation.
“It’s the best car currently in Formula 1, it’s won the most races this year, it’s an enormous opportunity for him and one that I’m sure he’s looking to make great use of,” said Horner.
“It benchmarks him against Valtteri [Bottas]. I’m sure Toto is also looking to use it to perhaps negotiate Lewis’s contract in some way, shape or form.
“So it’ll be fascinating to see how it plays out but it’s great to see another youngster getting that chance and opportunity.”