Sebastian Vettel to miss Saudi Arabia GP after positive Covid-19 test

Sebastian Vettel will miss this weekend's Saudi Arabia Grand Prix after another positive test for Covid-19.

The four-time world champion, who was also absent from the season-opener in Bahrain last week, will again be replaced at Aston Martin by German compatriot Nico Hulkenberg. The reserve driver was 17th last time out, although did benefit from retirements to Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez, and Pierre Gasly.

Last Thursday, Vettel tested positive just three days before the race at the Bahrain International Circuit, having already travelled to the Middle East. It had been hoped he would recover in time to compete in Jeddah, but the 34-year-old has continued to test positive.

Hulkenberg, 34, has stood in for the team four times since his last full-time F1 season with Renault in 2019. Prior to this season, he replaced Perez twice and Lance Stroll once in 2020, both drivers also testing positive for Covid at the time.

The German driver has started 179 F1 Grand Prix races but has yet to stand on the podium. He's also driven for Williams, Sauber, and Force India.

The development compounds a nightmare start to the season for Vettel, who is out of contract at the end of 2022. Last year proved a struggle for the F1 icon, notching just 43 points and one podium finish.

However, he did win the inaugural overtake award, edging out fellow veteran Fernando Alonso. And with new technical regulations brought in this season, designed to make racing more competitive, the former Red Bull and Ferrari man is expected to improve on his 2021 haul.

The issue of drivers being hindered by Covid is nothing new however. Back in 2020, Lewis Hamilton was ruled out of the race in Sakhir after testing positive, although the British driver had already secured an eighth world title by then.

At the season finale in Abu Dhabi last December, Nikita Mazepin tested positive on the eve of the race. And last week, Daniel Ricciardo was also a doubt after contracting Covid, but did test negative in time to take part in practice and qualifying.

In January, the FIA made vaccinations against Covid mandatory for the new campaign. The new regulations mean all personnel needing to enter the paddock at Grand Prix's, including drivers, team members, VIPs and media, need to provide evidence of being double jabbed.

The new directive hasn't affected those who line-up on the grid, with all 20 F1 drivers having reportedly received the vaccine. However, Vettel's absence is likely to reopen the debate as to whether drivers should be able to continue after testing positive.

Practice for the Saudi Arabia Grand Prix starts on Friday, with Ferrari appearing the team to beat following Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz's one-two finish last time out.

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