Lewis Hamilton replacement: Stoffel Vandoorne opens up on Mercedes decision for Sakhir GP

Stoffel Vandoorne says he has “a chance” to be named Lewis Hamilton’s stand-in at the Sakhir Grand Prix this weekend though Mercedes have yet to make a decision on who will replace their No 1 driver while he is stricken with coronavirus. Vandoorne and Williams’ George Russell, a Mercedes junior driver, are the two main options.

Vandoorne, the 2015 GP2 winner, is currently driving for Mercedes’ Formula E team and won the Berlin E-Prix earlier this year.

The Belgian, who spent the 2017 and 2018 F1 seasons driving for McLaren and managed seven points finishes despite the team’s struggles, has been in Valencia for pre-season testing but has confirmed he will fly out to Bahrain this week.

A statement from Mercedes on Hamilton read on Tuesday morning: “Lewis Hamilton has tested positive for COVID-19. In accordance with COVID-19 protocols and public health authority guidelines in Bahrain he is now isolating. All contacts have been declared.”

While Hamilton later said in a message of his own that he is “devastated” not to be racing this weekend and added: “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 have immediately gone into self-isolation for 10 days.

“I am gutted not to be able to race this weekend but my priority is to follow the protocols and advice to protect others. I am really lucky that I feel OK with only mild symptoms and will do my best to stay fit and healthy.

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“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.”

Constructors’ champions Mercedes have yet to confirm who will replace Hamilton and said in a tweet from their F1 account on Tuesday afternoon: “Lots of speculation about who will drive alongside VB [Valtteri Bottas]. And once it’s sorted, we’ll let you know!”

And reserve F1 driver Vandoorne, who was to fly out to Bahrain this week anyway after the conclusion of Formula E testing, says he has a chance to be the Brit’s replacement for the weekend but insists the Silver Arrows have yet to make a final decision.

Equally, they could ask Vandoorne to race for Williams to give Russell an opportunity to drive a superior car given his impressive performances in the grid’s worst-performing machinery.

Vandoorne is one of two Mercedes reserve drivers alongside Esteban Gutierrez but the Mexican does not have an F1 superlicence. 

“I don’t know what is going to happen [but] I know there is a chance for me to drive,” Vandoorne, 28, said.

“But let’s wait and see. I’m travelling tomorrow and I’ll find out. I got a first message this morning around seven.

“The team told me that Lewis tested positive and they were going to announce an hour later. But afterwards it’s just been kind of waiting.

“To be honest I’ve not been able to think about it that much because I’ve been focusing on my Formula E test here.


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“That’s been the priority of the day. I know I’m travelling out anyway to Bahrain tomorrow so let’s wait and see.”

Russell, 22, is yet to earn a point in 36 races for Williams but has shown brilliant pace in qualifying and has never been outqualified by a team-mate.

Only Ayrton Senna (44) and Michael Schumacher (56) have managed a longer run of successive races in which they outpaced their team-mate in qualifying.

The Brit has been playfully named ‘Mr Saturday’ and has reached Q2 nine times in 15 races this season despite Williams’ struggles at the back of the pack.

It is widely expected that Russell will race regularly for Mercedes in the future and he could be given an opportunity to prove his abilities in a faster car this weekend, but Williams would have to agree a deal for him to do so.

Vandoorne, meanwhile, finished second in the final Formula E standings for the 2019-20 season, 71 points behind champion Antonio Felix da Costa, who drives for BMW Team Schnitzer.

The season was Mercedes’ first full year in FE after taking over from HWA Racelab.

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