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Mercedes F1 Short on Reserve Drivers for Silverstone

Mike Pryson
Photo credit: NurPhoto - Getty Images
Photo credit: NurPhoto - Getty Images

From Autoweek

Apparently, there was at least one box that the juggernaut Mercedes Formula 1 race team failed to check this year when putting together its master plan for a record seventh consecutive F1 Constructors' Championship.

The team's reserve drivers are unavailable this weekend should something unforeseen, including a positive coronavirus test, happen to drivers Lewis Hamilton or Valtteri Bottas.

Sure, reserve drivers rarely come into play, but it's interesting to note that Mercedes appears to lack one at the moment. Or, this just shows how little the title of reserve driver really means in the sport. Last week proved that a team's reserve driver is not, in fact, always the next driver up in the event of an emergency.

Photo credit: Handout - Getty Images
Photo credit: Handout - Getty Images

Both of Mercedes' reserve drivers on its roster—Stoffel VanDoorne and Esteban Gutierrez—are unavailable this week. VanDoorne is driving for the Mercedes-Benz EQ Formula E team in Berlin this weekend, while Gutierrez no longer has a Super License that allows him to race in Formula 1.

Gutierrez was expected to be in the discussion to replace Sergio Perez at Racing Point this past week at Silverstone after Perez tested positive for coronavirus. Racing Point, powered by Mercedes engines, has a shared working agreement with Mercedes for reserve drivers.

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff told RaceFans.net, "There is a new rule this year that if you haven’t raced in a Formula 1 car in an official event for the last three years you need to have done the test of at least 300 kilometers.”

That would exclude Gutierrez, who has not raced in Formula 1 since 2016. That year, he started all 21 races for the Haas F1 Team, posting a best finish of 11th four times.

Racing Point team principal Otmar Szafnauer spoke as if he didn't realize that Gutierrez did not a possess a Super Licence when the team picked Nico Hulkenberg to replace Perez.

"After we discussed it, we thought Nico would be more appropriate for our team because he knows us really well, he knows all the engineers, he knows our systems, our processes, he’s driven our simulator," Szafnauser said. "It would be easy for him to get in the simulator again and also he has relevant experience from having driven in Formula 1 last year, and we just needed somebody who could score points for us so we thought Nico would be the best guy for us."

Hulkenberg, who raced last year with Renault, was quick in qualifying for the F1 British Grand Prix, qualifying 13th. Ultimately, he missed the race when his car failed to fire on race day.

“We were so close to making it to Q3, and I'm happy with that considering I've come in from the cold," Hulkenberg said. "It's a big ask after eight months away to come back and jump into a completely different environment—and into a Formula 1 car I've never driven before and immediately perform. Especially when Silverstone is such a high-speed challenge and the conditions were changeable throughout the day."