Formula One’s return to racing in Austria this weekend will get underway with new protocols in place aimed at reducing the chance of a coronavirus outbreak in the paddock. But while the stringent measures should ensure positive cases do not spread, as long as Covid-19 is still in transmission there remains a risk to all members of F1 personnel, including drivers.
As a result, there has been extra focus on reserve drivers in the build up to the 2020 season and who would be first in line should one of the team’s race drivers test positive. Although most teams have not drawn attention to their contingency plans, each one has at least one reserve driver they can call on should they need to. Below we look at the most likely candidates available to each team.
Mercedes Formula E driver Stoffel Vandoorne will be first in line to replace Lewis Hamilton or Valtteri Bottas should they be ruled out for the world champions. Vandoorne last raced in F1 for McLaren and was snapped up by HWA Racelab in Formula E when he lost his seat at the end of 2018 and then continued at the team as it evolved into the works Mercedes Formula E team. Former Sauber driver Esteban Gutierrez, who last raced in F1 in 2016, is the official reserve for Mercedes but would likely be second choice to Vandoorne.
Alfa Romeo driver Antonio Giovinazzi is Ferrari’s official reserve driver, but may not be pulled out of his own team if a situation arises mid-weekend. Ferrari also has former Sauber driver Pascal Wherlein as its simulator driver who could be called upon to step up to the race team given his previous F1 experience. Ferrari Driver Academy member Mick Schumacher, the son of seven-time champion Michael, also has a superlicence, but with limited F1 experience is unlikely to be chosen.
Red Bull has the luxury of having two current F1 drivers under contract at its junior team, Alpha Tauri, and in the event that either Max Verstappen or Alex Albon were unfit, either Pierre Gasly or Daniil Kvyat would likely be promoted. However, Super Formula driver Sergio Sette Camara is listed as an official reserve alongside former Toro Rosso driver Sebastien Buemi, who has experienced Le Mans and World Endurance Championship success since leaving F1 in 2011.
With a switch to Mercedes engines next year, McLaren also has a deal that allows access to the world champions’ reserve drivers, Vandoorne and Gutierrez, if necessary. Vandoorne would seem like a natural fit given his two seasons at McLaren in 2017 and 2018, but should he be needed elsewhere, McLaren still has links with two-time champion Fernando Alonso through its IndyCar programme.
Former Williams driver Sergey Sirotkin was named as the team’s reserve driver earlier this week and will be first in line should one of the race drivers be ruled out. He was also the team’s reserve driver in 2019 and completed a full season in F1 with Williams in 2018.
As Red Bull’s junior team, Alpha Tauri would also have access to Sette Camara or Buemi if needed. It may also have to call in one of those two if one of its race drivers gets the call up from Red Bull.
Like McLaren, Racing Point has an arrangement with engine supplier Mercedes to use Vandoorne or Gutierrez if it needs to.
Robert Kubica is the official reserve driver for Alfa Romeo and brings sponsor money to the team via a deal with Polish oil company Orlen. He raced for Williams last year and would also be the obvious choice if Giovinazzi gets called up by Ferrari. He also has the benefit of testing the car during preseason in February.
Haas has Louis Delatraz and Pietro Fittipaldi listed as its official reserve drivers. Fittipaldi, the grandson of two-time champion Emerson, has completed more tests with the team over the last 12 months, but unlike Delatraz does not have a superlicence. However, the Brazilian is just four points away from a superlicence and new rules this year mean first practice appearances are worth one extra point. In theory, Haas could ensure Fittipaldi is available towards the end of the season by offering him seat time in Friday practice sessions or simply stick with F2 driver Delatraz.
Formula 2 driver Jack Aitken is listed as Williams reserve driver and is expected to be the first choice if George Russell or Nicholas Latifi are ruled out. He will embark on his third season in Formula 2 this year and was Russell’s teammate in GP3 in 2017, finishing second to the current Williams race driver in the standings.