Monday, December 11

Why isn’t Sebastian Vettel at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix? Nico Hulkenberg replaces Aston Martin driver again

Sebastian Vettel’s wait to start his 2022 Formula One season will continue for at least another two weeks after he failed to return a negative Covid test ahead of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

The four-time world champion missed out on the opening race in Bahrain last weekend having picked up the virus in the week leading up to the race.

Aston Martin reserve driver Nico Hulkenberg was called in to replace his fellow German and the team had hoped they would have Vettel back in the seat for this weekend’s race in Saudi Arabia.

The team said on Thursday that they would delay their decision until Friday in order to give Vettel “every opportunity”to race.

But the Silverstone-based team confirmed on Friday morning that the German had failed to produce a negative Covid test so will be forced to sit out once more.

Before the Bahrain race, Vettel had been a part of every race weekend dating back to the 2007 European Grand Prix.

Aston Martin and Hulkenberg hoping to improve on opening day performance

From his position on the sofa, Vettel will not have enjoyed what he saw from his team during the race in Bahrain.

Two seasons ago, the team – then called Racing Point – were one of the outside challengers for podiums with Sergio Perez taking an unlikely win in the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix.

However, their fortunes have changed since then and their struggles from last year only seem to have worsened in the 2022 campaign.

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With Otmar Szafnauer jumping ship to Alpine, the responsibility has fallen to Mike Krack to steer the Lawrence Stroll-backed team to the owner’s stated goal of race wins and podiums.

Hülkenberg ended the Bahrain race in 17th while his teammate, Lance Stroll, also ended out of the points in 12th. (Photo: Reuters)

That challenge has not been so easy though with the Silverstone team struggling to get the best out of their car under the new regulations.

In Bahrain, Lance Stroll finished outside the points in 12th while Hulkenberg ended in 17th.

The lowly position for the German can be partially explained by his lack of time behind the wheel having been a late substitute for Vettel but having had a full week to prepare this time round, the team will be hoping for a better performance in Saudi Arabia.

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The 34-year-old has said he spent the week in the simulator getting more acclimatized to the AMR22 and his first true test will come on Saturday as he looks to improve on his qualifying performance of 17th.

Just once in his career has Hulkenberg secured pole but he will be hoping to at least make it to Q2 this time round. However, his performance on race day will largely be affected by how much work the Aston Martin team has done to the car during the week between races.

Stroll’s own struggles suggest Hulkenberg’s rustiness was not the only cause of his finish well down the order.

With another two weeks before the Australian Grand Prix after the Saudi Arabian event, this is likely to be Hulkenberg’s last race for the foreseeable future but it will be a tough ask for him to break his record of the driver with the most races without a podium .

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Judging by the performance of the Aston Martin car so far, a points finish seems like a more likely – if still lofty – target for the German this weekend.

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