Formula 1: Could COVID-19 cost Lewis Hamilton his seat?

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes Formula 1 (Photo by Hamad Mohammed - Pool/Getty Images)
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes Formula 1 (Photo by Hamad Mohammed - Pool/Getty Images) /

If Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes are unable to reach an agreement for the 2021 Formula 1 season, will it have been indirectly due to his COVID-19 diagnosis?

We are just over two months from the scheduled start of the 2021 Formula 1 season, and seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton is still without a contract to return for what would be a ninth consecutive season with Mercedes.

In fact, the Mercedes seat alongside Valtteri Bottas is the only one of the 20 seats on the grid for the upcoming season without a confirmed driver.

All throughout the 2020 season and into the offseason, Hamilton and the team maintained that they had every desire to reach an agreement and continue working together into the 2021 season and perhaps beyond.

Yet there have been multiple recent reports that the two sides are quite far apart in terms of what they want in a new deal.

More from Formula One

The team reportedly aren’t willing to pay the 36-year-old Briton anything near what he wants, and despite the fact that new one-third shareholder Ineos have been tipped to cover what Mercedes are unwilling to cover, there still hasn’t been any sign of a new deal, no pun intended.

Is the reason for that what George Russell did when he was in Hamilton’s car at Bahrain International Circuit for the Sakhir Grand Prix in early December? After the Bahrain Grand Prix at the same venue, Hamilton tested positive for COVID-19, and for the first time since he made his Formula 1 debut in 2007, he was forced to miss a race.

Mercedes selected the 22-year-old Briton, who competes full-time for Williams and has been backed by the Silver Arrows throughout his career, to replace him, and Russell had instant success.

He nearly took the pole position, barely missing out to Bottas, and he took the lead at the start and dominated the race. Specifically, he dominated his teammate.

Unfortunately, he had the win robbed from him late — twice.

After a pit issue during a safety car period took away his dominant lead, he was able to battle back to second place, passing Bottas in convincing fashion along the way, and he was clearly quicker than race leader and eventual winner Sergio Perez of Racing Point as the laps wound down.

However, a flat tire ruined his day again.

Even after falling well out of the points, however, he battled back for a ninth place finish, and he secured the bonus point for running the race’s fastest lap. Bottas only finished one spot ahead of him despite the mayhem.

And there is something else to consider about that success, according to team principal Toto Wolff.

The car he drove was set up for the smaller Hamilton, not the taller and larger Russell.

"“You must not forget that he does not actually fit in that car. When you see recordings from above, you can tell how he is squeezed into the cockpit. He had bloody knuckles, hit his knees on everything and his leg was at an angle that did not allow him to hit the brake pedal correctly in order to build up enough brake pressure. His fingers and hands were even too big to handle the wheel and clutch pedals optimally.”"

It is certainly premature to compare Russell, who has just one start with Mercedes, to Hamilton, who has won six of the last seven world championships with the team and more than 50% of the races since the V6 turbo hybrid era began in 2014.

Maybe Russell is better, who knows? But at this point, we can’t make that comparison. He has scored points once.

However, did Russell’s run in the championship-winning W11 cap Hamilton’s value, thus delaying contract talks as he insists on a huge multi-year deal that Mercedes are no longer willing to offer?

So as strange as it sounds, the real question is this: could an untimely COVID-19 diagnosis effectively cost Hamilton his job?

Russell would clearly be a cheaper option, and as long as the Brackley-based team maintain their dominance, there is no reason to believe that having him in the car instead of Hamilton would cost them a world championship. The team have secured five 1-2 points finishes in the last seven years, including the last two.

In 2019, Williams deputy team principal Claire Williams stated that Russell was under contract with the team through the 2021 season and therefore Mercedes would not be able to sign him until the 2022 season at the earliest, despite the fact that he is a Mercedes junior driver.

But now Williams have been sold to Dorilton Capital, and after they were willing to loan Russell to Mercedes for the Sakhir Grand Prix, it’s not out of the question that they would allow Mercedes to sign him for 2021 if they can’t come to terms with Hamilton.

dark. Next. Top 10 Formula 1 drivers of all-time

At the end of the day, the most likely scenario is still Hamilton returning to Mercedes, with Russell finishing out his current deal with Williams before moving to Mercedes in 2022 to replace Bottas. However, if that doesn’t happen, a huge reason why will be because of the race in which Russell replaced Hamilton as a result of the latter’s COVID-19 diagnosis.