MANAMA: Louis Hamilton’s unexpected absence will add extra spice to the Sakheer Grand Prix, representing a new challenge for seven-time World Champion Formula One competitors in Bahrain this weekend.
The Mercedes driver, who has not missed a race since making his debut with McLaren in 2007, is separating after a positive test for COVID-19.
“I’m so devastated that I’m not racing this weekend,” said Hamilton, who was on course to set a career record of 13 wins by taking 100 career poles and a joint run by Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel.
Under the initial grid floodlights without its big name, only Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen competed in the pre-Hamiltonian era, but that would open up opportunities for others.
Britain’s George Russell Williams, who was one of three changes after last week’s Bahrain Grand Prix, won his record-breaking seventh title.
The race is on the same circuit but in a different and less “out” design.
The two drivers make their race debuts – Brazilian Pietro Fittipaldi, who sits at Russell’s position with Jack Aitken and Romain Grosjean’s seat at Haas after the French’s ferocious accident last weekend.
Hamilton teammate Valtteri Bottas should be looking to win his third win of the year in a car that has won 13 of its 15 races.
Meanwhile, Russell is expected to earn career-high points after nearly two years at competitive Williams.
“Obviously, no one can replace Lewis, but from the moment I step into the car, I will give my all for the team in their absence,” Russell said.
The Floodlit 3.5-km design is made up of 11 corners and drivers are expected to lap in under a minute – 54 to 55 seconds of laps for eligibility.
Formula One has not previously competed in the layout.
Red Bulls Max Verstappen, who has covered the bottoms in this season, grabs his chances as a favorite for a non-Mercedes win.
Thai team-mate Alexander Alban will be another contender on the stage, as is Racing Point’s Mexican Sergio Perez, until his engine blew to a stage in Bahrain last Sunday.
The memory of Sunday’s race, and the Grosjean miracle escape from the fiery car that split into two, hangs over the proceedings.
The son of seven-time champion Michael Schumacher and Mick Schumacher of Germany, who announced on Wednesday that he is the 2021 Haas driver, could seal the Formula Two title at the conclusion of this weekend.

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