Otmar Szafnauer has revealed the reasons behind Lance Stroll’s absence from the BWT Racing Point Formula One Team this weekend at the Nürburgring, which saw Nico Hülkenberg drafted it ahead of Qualifying for the Eifel Grand Prix.
Stroll informed Szafnauer of his illness on Saturday morning, and the Team Principal and CEO of Racing Point opted to call upon the services of Hülkenberg once more, with the German having already stepped into the other car earlier this season when Sergio Pérez tested positive for COVID-19 ahead of the British Grand Prix.
Szafnauer revealed Stroll had not been felling well since the Russian Grand Prix, but he had been hoping to drive at the Nürburgring only to be unfit to do so when the track action finally got underway on Saturday morning.
“He hasn’t been feeling great since Russia,” Szafnauer is quoted as saying by Motorsport.com. “I think he had a bit of a cold. At first we thought, ‘Well you had better get tested for the virus.’
“We’ve tested him multiple times, including the pre-event test for this race. And he’s come back negative three or four times. He doesn’t have the classic COVID-19 symptoms, he just doesn’t feel well in himself.
“And last night he had a bit of an upset stomach. So, he was on the toilet the whole time. And he said, ‘I’ve got rid of a lot of fluid, and I can’t get off the toilet for long enough to get in the race car.’ I don’t know if it’s something he ate, or if it’s a tummy bug. He just said, ‘I’m just not feeling up to it. We’re going to have a double header coming up soon. And I’d rather rest and get ready for that.’
“We were hoping that he was going to get better. He had kind of flu-like symptoms. Just not well in himself, and couldn’t exercise, and so now that, with whatever he ate or a tummy bug together, he said, ‘I can’t do it.’ We’ve got a doctor looking after him and when he’s fit to leave, he’ll go home.”
Szafnauer admits that had Stroll informed him that he would not be racing earlier, they would have brought Hülkenberg in earlier than they did. He could have been in the car for final practice, which would have given him the chance to get a feel of the car prior to Qualifying.
“Thirty minutes before FP3, he was still thinking, ‘I want to do this.’ But then he thought, ‘Well, if I don’t get better, then I’ve got to qualify, and then I’ve got to race.’ And it’s the race that he wasn’t really looking forward to, in the state that he was in,” Szafnauer added.
“He was hoping that he could get off the toilet and come in. But it was 30 minutes before FP3. Otherwise, yesterday, we would have called Hülkenberg a day earlier, and he would have done FP3.”
“If he gets a good start, he’s got a chance at points”
Szafnauer says it was lucky that Hülkenberg was available to race this weekend, although not much was expected of him after his first experience of the updated car was in Qualifying.
As a result, Hülkenberg qualified twentieth and last at the Nürburgring, but Szafnauer expects the German to get used to the car during Sunday’s race, and he could be a points contender come the end of the afternoon.
“He was on his way here anyway, I think to do some work for RTL, because I stay in contact with him,” said Szafnauer. “So I knew that he wasn’t far off. I called him and I said, ‘How far away are you?’
“It was a huge ask, and we’re just thankful that he got within 107% rule, that’s what we wanted to do, so he could race tomorrow. He’s got a decent race car underneath him. He’s done a few laps now. And if he gets a good start, he’s got a chance at points.
“We made some changes to the car since he drove it last. He was surprised by the changes that we made. He said the car felt different because of it. He’s got to get used to it.
“Overall, he was happy the balance wasn’t that far off. He did say some of the changes we made surprised him. If you are not used to driving the updates that we brought to the car, you are definitely going to go slower.”
Had Hulkenberg not been available, Racing Point would have called upon the services of Stoffel Vandoorne instead, with the Belgian available having already been in the paddock and with a negative COVID-19 test in the bag.
“He was in the paddock,” said Szafnauer. “He had a negative COVID test, and he was ready to go. Just with Nico, we had his seat here, we know exactly where the pedals go.
“We don’t have to adjust the pedals and some of the other things that we would have had to go through with Stoffel. So it was easier.”