Lewis Hamilton, who has Covid-19, has to return a negative test result by Thursday or his substitute George Russell will be in the driving seat again, according to Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff.
Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton is in a race against time as he battles to recover from Covid-19 and return to action for Mercedes at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, according to team chief Toto Wolff.
The Austrian boss told reporters after Sunday's dramatic Sakhir Grand Prix, in which the seven-time champion's substitute George Russell excelled, that Hamilton's condition was improving every day.
But, he added, he had to complete a full recovery and return a negative coronavirus test result by Thursday – and, if not, super-sub Russell, on loan from Williams, would take his seat again.
'Lewis made a big step'
"If Lewis recovers, and he is getting better every day, and he is being considered Covid-free and negative then he will be fine," said Wolff. "I think we need to see how well Lewis recovers.
"That's the most important, that he's well, and he says he's a bit better so he's made a big step.
"If the test is negative, it's his car and then, I am sure, he will drive a brilliant race. But, if the test in Abu Dhabi is positive, then George is in the car."
Wolff rejected suggestions that the prodigious Russell's dazzling display for Mercedes, he looked certain to win the race until a pit-stop bungle and a puncture ended his challenge, was a useful factor in negotiating a new contract with Hamilton.
"No, they are two different things," he countered. "Lewis has been with the team for eight years. We have had great success in the past.
"He is a team member and I have said it already, none of the events will interfere or change any of our negotiations. That wouldn't be fair against him and it wouldn't be fair against us.
"It could have gone the other way around and been a race weekend where George wouldn't have been on the pace. Our negotiations go much beyond that."
Hamilton will be out of contract at the end of this season. Talks, postponed due to his illness, are expected to resume later this month.
'A new star'
Team chief Toto Wolff hailed George Russell as a new star on Monday after his storming drive for Mercedes in Sunday's Sakhir Grand Prix, while rival drivers said he had exposed Formula One's need for a more level playing field.
Mercedes boss Wolff said the 22-year-old Briton, released by struggling Williams to stand in for Covid-19 victim seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton, had exceeded expectations with a polished personal performance throughout the weekend.
Russell said he was "gutted" after finishing ninth, having appeared to be set for victory before a rare bungled pit stop and a late slow puncture gave Racing Point's Sergio Perez his maiden win in his 190th race.