Racing Point have admitted Lance Stroll was not functioning at his best during the Portuguese Grand Prix weekend after recovering from COVID-19.
The Canadian driver missed the Eifel Grand Prix at the Nurburgring when he declared himself unfit on the Saturday morning with what appeared to be merely a stomach upset that had lingered on from the race in Russia two weeks earlier.
However, upon returning home to Switzerland, the 21-year-old tested positive for COVID-19 – as did his father, team owner Lawrence Stroll – and had to self-isolate for 10 days before travelling to Portugal.
In FP2 at the Algarve International Circuit just outside Portimao, Stroll collided with Max Verstappen at turn one and made contact in the race at the same place with Lando Norris – an incident that led to his retirement.
Stroll received a five-second penalty for that collision, a punishment that was doubled for exceeding track limits on too many occasions. He was also given three penalty points on his super-licence.
Sergio Perez, Stroll’s team-mate, missed the two races at Silverstone earlier this season having also tested positive for the coronavirus.
Racing Point team principal Otmar Szafnauer thought Perez needed a bit of time to rediscover his best form when returning to action afterwards and thinks the situation will be similar with Stroll.
— BWT Racing Point F1 Team (@RacingPointF1) October 26, 2020
“Even Sergio, after he missed a couple of races, [found] it hard because your competition hasn’t missed any,” Szafnauer told RaceFans.
“So you bounce back, but you’re not quite to the same level as everyone else around you who hasn’t missed anything. Lance will be better in Imola.”
Nevertheless, the team believe Stroll was on course for a top-five finish before his collision with Norris.
Szafnauer added: “When he came together with Lando, that was an overtake for seventh place. So he started 12th and in a few laps he was quicker than Lando, he should have got seventh.
“Had he made that move stick we think he would have been around where [Pierre] Gasly finished [P5] which would have been a pretty good result, starting from 12th. We had a good race car.”
The penalty decision “was a bit harsh”, said Szafnauer, who added: “Lance was a bit ahead of Lando when he turned in. Lando put himself in the middle of the track, Lance was a bit quicker. I don’t know if Lance could have, without turning in, made the corner or got around there. So to me, a bit of a racing incident.”
Asked by RaceFans whether he felt Stroll was still suffering the after-effects of the virus, Szafnauer said: “That’s hard for me to tell. [If] you ask Lance that question, he’s training with his trainer and his trainer sees no difference. He feels well in himself. So that’s a hard thing to answer.”