LONDON • Racing Point's Sergio Perez, who will miss tomorrow's British Grand Prix after becoming the first Formula One driver to test positive for the coronavirus since the start of the season, revealed yesterday that he flew back to Mexico after the previous race in Hungary.
A spokesman for the Canadian-owned, British-based team on Thursday denied that was the case.
But in a video message on Twitter, Perez admitted he had taken a private plane home despite his country being among the worst affected by Covid-19, with over 416,000 cases and 46,000 deaths as of yesterday.
He claimed that he had to see his mother for two days after she suffered an accident.
"As soon as she left hospital. I was able to see her. And then I came back to Europe. Same way, with all the protocols in place. I just got it, I don't know from where. I have no symptoms at all," the 30-year-old said.
Perez, who is now in self-isolation and also likely to miss the following 70th Anniversary Grand Prix at Silverstone next weekend, called his infection "one of the saddest days in my career".
"The amount of preparation that we put into this weekend, to be 100 per cent ready for it, I knew I had a great car underneath me and the team have done a fantastic job," he said. "I'm really sad that this happened, but this just shows just how vulnerable we are all to this virus."
In a statement, the sport's ruling body, the FIA, said: "The (safety) procedures set out have provided for swift containment of an incident that will have no wider impact on this weekend's event."
Racing Point's car, a close copy of last year's winning Mercedes albeit in pink, is expected to go well at their home track - the first high-speed circuit of a season delayed by more than four months because of the Covid-19 crisis. And German Nico Hulkenberg will be the Mexican's stand-in at Silverstone.
Having raced for Racing Point when they were known as Force India from 2014 to 2016, the veteran of 177 grands prix is intimately familiar with the team and principal Otmar Szafnauer is confident that Perez's unforeseen absence will not prove to be a hindrance.
"Having to find a replacement for Sergio at short notice is no easy task, but in Nico, we've got a fantastic super-sub who the team knows very well," he said of the 32-year-old, who last raced for Renault last year.
UP FOR A FIGHT
That (news) was less than 24 hours ago, so it feels a bit surreal for me right now, but I like a good challenge and this is certainly one. He's a buddy of mine... and I wish him a speedy recovery.
NICO HULKENBERG, ex-Force India racer who is replacing former teammate Sergio Perez at short notice.
Hulkenberg told reporters he was sorry to hear that his former teammate had been struck down by the virus, but reiterated his aim to seize his opportunity.
"That (news) was less than 24 hours ago, so it feels a bit surreal for me right now, but I like a good challenge and this is certainly one," he said. "He's a buddy of mine, an old teammate and I wish him a speedy recovery."
He certainly looked like he had never been away in first practice yesterday, acquitting himself well and setting the ninth-fastest time despite some discomfort from the seat.
Red Bull's Max Verstappen was the fastest in 1min 27.422sec, while six-time world champion and leader Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes was second quickest, 0.474sec off the pace.
F1 BRITISH GRAND PRIX
Practice 3 (5.55pm) & qualifying (8.30pm) - Singtel TV Ch114 & StarHub Ch208