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Formula 1

Vettel was ‘definitely’ too ill to race in opening grands prix

by Edd Straw
5 min read

Sebastian Vettel says it would not have been possible for him to race in the Bahrain and Saudi Arabian Grands Prix and that it was “definitely the right decision” to miss the first two Formula 1 races of the season.

Vettel was unable to contest the races after testing positive for COVID-19, with Aston Martin reserve driver Nico Hulkenberg standing in for him.

He returns for this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix, describing his health now as “fine…obviously better than weeks ago”.

The 34-year-old said it was “strange” to watch Hulkenberg race his car, But although multiple drivers argued in Bahrain that it should be possible for F1 drivers with COVID-19 to race provided they are cautious about contact and feel up to it, Vettel said it was not possible for him to do so.

“I had races where I was feeling a bit ill and raced but it was not possible [this time], so it was definitely the right decision,” said Vettel.

“It was strange to watch, but on the other hand also interesting to see how it looks from the outside.

“Nico did really well with zero preparation to jump in and do that kind of job.

“And I was part of all the meetings, briefings, listening to the drivers all the time, so tried to make the most of it. But it was a bit strange.”

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Australian Grand Prix Preparation Day Melbourne, Australia

Vettel concedes that missing the first two races will put him at a disadvantage because he’s lacking “race rhythm”.

But despite that, he’s confident he will not face much of a struggle given his vast experience despite his return to the cockpit in Australia today coming 27 days after he last drove the car on the final day of the Bahrain test.

“We had a decent test and we had more test [days] than last year,” said Vettel. “And it’s not too long ago.

“But for sure I miss the race rhythm. It’s obviously a disadvantage not to have had those two races and race with these cars.

“But I think it will be OK. I’ve done this before.”

Vettel is relishing returning at Albert Park, a track where he won in 2011, ’17 and ’18, but accepts it will be a difficult weekend given the pace of the Aston Martin to date.

He’s eager to gain a deeper understanding of the limitations of the car, the pace of which is contained by having to compromise the set-up and run a higher ride height to mitigate its porpoising problem.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Saudi Arabian Grand Prix Qualifying Day Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

The team is hopeful that once it can adapt the car and run with a more aggressive set-up that it will add up to a significant lap time improvement.

“It’s not a secret we are not where we want to be,” said Vettel. “So there’s a lot of work ahead of us.

“We try to learn more this weekend and get a further understanding of the difficulties and struggles that we have with the car.

“I’m looking forward to the track. I love this place and the season always used to kick off [the season] here so for me in a way it does so that’s good.

“They’ve changed the track quite a bit, so maybe they made it better, maybe they made it worse. I’ve always liked the track so I look forward to get in the car.”

Vettel was also asked about the Russian invasion of Ukraine and what can be done by F1 to help the situation.

He backed the idea of F1 raising money, although it wasn’t clear if he was calling for more action beyond the appeal to support UNICEF’s work that was launched last month.

F1 said in March it made a “generous donation” to UNICEF and pushed for teams and fans also to support the appeal with financial contributions.

Motor Racing Formula One Testing Sakhir, Bahrain

“It is absolutely horrible to see what’s going on,’ said Vettel.

“There’s one or two days where you don’t follow so closely because there’s other things going on – for example, you travel down here and you’re busy for a day – and then you get back reading and listening to the news and it’s a shock.

“Every time we think it can’t be more of a shock. It’s more of a shock and innocent people getting killed, women and children getting killed, it’s horrible.

“There’s a lot of people that are very willing to help, a lot of volunteers in the neighbouring countries but also in other countries across Europe. They are willing to give shelter.

“And a lot of the things that are required to help people are basic things other than shelter, making sure they’ve got food, they have got blankets, nappies – whatever you can think of. To supply all these things you need money, so I think we should set up something and collect money.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Australian Grand Prix Preparation Day Melbourne, Australia

“F1 turns around a lot of money. We can’t help people by going fast or slow around the track, but we can help by maybe setting up a way to raise money and I think that’s what we probably should do.

“Support or solidarity is not just mentioning that you feel for people, but also acting and helping.

“When I hear stories from people that are trying to get out of Ukraine, finding a place, the journey they have ahead of them or had behind them it’s absolutely…I’m still in shock.

“I can’t picture how this is. We should do everything we can to help the people in need.”

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