F1 suffers late withdrawal for Abu Dhabi Grand Prix due to positive Covid-19 test

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Only 19 racers will start the race at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi after one driver was struck down by a positive Covid-19 test result ahead of the season’s finale

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F1 preview: Abu Dhabi run-through as Verstappen and Hamilton go head-to-head

One driver will be missing from the starting grid at this afternoon’s crucial Abu Dhabi Grand Prix after a positive Covid-19 test.

Nikita Mazepin will not be able to race after receiving the positive result, leaving only 19 drivers in the field for the title-decider.

His Haas team will not field a replacement driver as that would go against FIA rules.

“Due to a positive Covid-19 test result, Nikita Mazepin will not compete in today’s Abu Dhabi GP,” the team said in a statement.

“There will be no replacement driver in accordance with article 31.1 of the 2021 FIA Formula 1 Sporting Regulations, which prohibits any driver from starting the race who has not taken part in at least one practice session.”

It brings a premature end to a difficult debut season in F1 for the Russian, who has failed to score a single point over the course of the campaign.

Team-mate Mick Schumacher is also pointless in his first year in the sport, with Haas unable to give their drivers a competitive car at any point in 2021.

Schumacher will now be the only Haas driver on the grid for Sunday’s race at the Yas Marina Circuit.

It means one driver fewer on the road for the title-decider, as Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen battle it out in one final winner-takes-all race.

Whoever finishes ahead of the other will be the champion, with the title race protagonists level on points heading into the Grand Prix – that has only happened once before in F1 history.

Relationships between the two drivers and their respective teams have turned sour in recent weeks as the title race comes to its dramatic climax, sparked by several high-profile incidents on the track.

Most recently there was more contact between Hamilton and Verstappen in Saudi Arabia – while neither racer was forced to retire, they made little effort to hide their fury after the conclusion of the race.

Verstappen stormed angrily from the podium after finishing second, and race winner Hamilton accused his rival of being one of the most “over the top” racers he has competed against.

But their mutual respect was on show as they sat side by side in front of reporters after qualifying on Saturday as they contemplated the magnitude of the battle which lay ahead.

“At times we have pushed each other to the limit,” Verstappen said. “In 10 or 20 years we will be able to look back and say that we were part of something special.”

“Well said, man,” came Hamilton’s response, before the Briton added: “I’m grateful for such a close fight with Max and his team. We have grown stronger in ways we didn’t know we could.”