Lewis Hamilton described having coronavirus as “an experience” after he returned to his Mercedes car at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Hamilton missed last weekend’s race in Bahrain after contracting Covid-19 but tested negative on Wednesday in time to race at Yas Marina.
“It’s not something I really want to go into deeply about,” the world champion said. “It was an experience, for sure.
“I am just happy to be back and grateful to be back with the team.”
Hamilton’s team-mate Valtteri Bottas, who was fastest in second practice session on Friday, said: “Nice to see him healthy and back. You don’t wish anyone to have that virus and apparently it was not that mild.”
Hamilton said he had “missed doing what I love” and that he had watched “some” of the Sakhir Grand Prix, in which his stand-in George Russell starred in the Mercedes and was only deprived of a debut win by a pit-stop mix-up and puncture.
Hamilton said that it had taken him much of the day to feel comfortable again in the car.
“It has taken a good session and a half to get back in the flow even though it was such a short amount of time not in the car,” the seven-time champion said. “But we got through all the programme needed and [will] work hard tonight for tomorrow.
“The car wasn’t quite the way it was when I left it. The balance wasn’t the same but I am working my way back to where I am comfortable with it.”
Hamilton ended the day 0.203 seconds slower than Bottas, as both Mercedes drivers unusually set their fastest lap times on the medium tyre compound.
Unlike Bottas, Hamilton did set a faster lap on the soft, which should have better pace over one lap, but had his time deleted for exceeding track limits at the final corner.
That time was 0.2secs faster than Bottas’s pace-setting mark. He was the same margin ahead of Bottas on average on their race-simulation runs later in the session, for which both Mercedes drivers used the 2021 test tyre supplied by Pirelli.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was third fastest, his best time also set on the medium tyre.
Verstappen was blocked on his soft-tyre lap by Racing Point driver Sergio Perez and said the tyre was “fine for me”.
But Bottas said he had struggled to make the soft work effectively.
“The soft was tricky,” the Finn said. “I didn’t really get them into the window on the first lap and then the second lap they were overheating massively. The medium felt like the better tyre, which it shouldn’t be.”
Behind the usual top three, Red Bull’s Alexander Albon was fourth fastest ahead of McLaren’s Lando Norris.
The drivers from sixth to ninth – Renault’s Esteban Ocon, Racing Point’s Perez, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo – were separated by just 0.003ses.
Ocon was 0.001secs quicker than Perez, who was 0.002secs ahead of Leclerc and Ricciardo, who set exactly the same time.
The lack of pace in the soft tyre suggests that the top teams may be even more determined than in recent races to try to make it through the second session of qualifying on the medium so they can start the race on it.
Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen suffered a big engine fire that brought out the red flag for a few minutes in the middle of the race runs.
And both Perez and Kevin Magnussen will have to start from the back of the grid in their Racing Point and Haas cars after exceeding the permitted number of engine parts for the season.
Russell, who had conducted the media day on Thursday as a Mercedes driver before Hamilton was officially cleared to race, was 18th fastest on his return to Williams.
He suffered a problem with his MGU-K, part of the engine’s hybrid system, and missed the last part of the session.