Lewis Hamilton dismissed any Covid-19 blues and could not disguise his pleasure in returning to racing for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Hamilton missed only one meeting after he contracted coronavirus but the world champion is at his happiest behind the wheel and taking to the track in practice for the season finale at the Yas Marina circuit was clearly the tonic he required.
Hamilton tested positive on 30 November and was in isolation for 10 days until he returned a negative result. Hamilton said he did not want to talk about it but noted: “It was an experience, for sure”. His Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas seemed to concur. “You don’t wish anyone to have that virus and apparently it was not that mild,” he said.
Last week at the Sakhir GP Williams’s George Russell replaced Hamilton at Mercedes and delivered a superb drive where only bad luck denied him a likely win. Hamilton had made 265 consecutive starts in F1 since his debut in 2007 and having made it back for Abu Dhabi he was once more enjoying the ride.
“It felt like I had spent a lot of time away from the car. I was very happy this morning when I got here, I miss doing what I love,” he said. “I was very grateful just to be back and to try and finish the season strongly. I was super excited. It felt like the first day back at school.”
Hamilton lost time in the morning session because of a brake problem and he said the team were working hard to set up the car to his liking again after it was tailored for Russell last weekend. He praised the Mercedes junior driver for his performance. “George did an amazing job, everyone knows that,” Hamilton said.
The British driver was fifth in morning practice but in the night running in the afternoon Mercedes, as they have been all season, were solidly on top. Bottas was quickest, two-tenths up on Hamilton.
Having already secured his seventh title and with 11 wins from 16 races, Hamilton felt he was under no pressure to make a point on his comeback in Abu Dhabi. “I don’t think I need to do any more,” he said. “I just want to come here and enjoy what I do.”
For Russell, the return to the day job was sobering after the highs of last week. He was 18th for Williams, with whom he will drive next year.
Another driver thrilled to be on track was Michael Schumacher’s son Mick. Schumacher has been signed by Haas for next season and made his debut in a 2020 F1 car in FP1. He did well in an uncompetitive ride, finishing 18th in front of his teammate Pietro Fittipaldi who is standing in for Romain Grosjean.
“It was a hell of a ride, it was really fun and great to be back in an F1 car,” he said, adding he had swiftly felt confident enough to begin pushing the car toward the edge. “Obviously, you have to also go over the limit sometimes to feel where the limit is.”