Aston Martin Formula 1 driver Sebastian Vettel has been forced out of the Bahrain Grand Prix after testing positive for COVID-19, and will be replaced by Nico Hulkenberg.
Just 24 hours before practice begins for the F1 season opener, Aston Martin announced that Vettel would not be able to take part.
It means that Hulkenberg will be making his fourth appearance for the Aston Martin team having been drafted in previously when its drivers were taken ill.
Sergio Perez had to miss both Silverstone races in 2020, while Lance Stroll was forced out of that year’s Eifel Grand Prix at the Nurburgring.
Vettel is the ninth F1 driver to test positive and his absence comes just one week after McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo had to miss last week’s pre-season test with Covid.
Prior to being taken unwell, the Australian had mixed with drivers ahead of the event for a Grand Prix Drivers’ Association (GPDA) photoshoot on the Bahrain grid to show their solidarity with Ukraine following the Russian invasion.
F1 has relaxed its Covid protocols for this year, with its previously strict regime of regular mandatory PCR testing having been wound back.
Now, PCR tests are only recommended, and F1 has moved away from the strict bubble system that was in place throughout much of the 2020 and 2021 campaigns.
Bahrain’s regulations mean that positive cases normally face a seven-day quarantine period, which would put some doubt on whether or not Vettel could make it to next weekend’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
However, exemptions can be made for elite sports people – with Lewis Hamilton having raced in the 2020 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix just one week after he was forced to miss that year’s Sakhir GP.
Should Vettel testing negative in the days after the Bahrain GP, then he would likely be allowed to travel to Saudi to take part in the race.
Ricciardo has made a swift recovery from his Covid infection and is due to return to track action for this weekend’s F1 season opener, with Lando Norris having had to drive in all three days of last week’s test.