F1 title rivals join in urging people to get vaccinated

Dec 11 (Reuters) – Formula One title rivals Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen have urged people to vaccinate against COVID-19 as the sport grabs the world’s attention ahead of Sunday’s winner-takes-all showdown in Abu Dhabi.

The season-ending race pits Mercedes’ seven-times world champion Hamilton against Red Bull’s Verstappen with the pair level on points but the Dutch youngster ahead 9-8 on race wins.

“We’re finding our way back to things we love but COVID has not gone away,” said Hamilton, who missed a race in Bahrain last year due to the virus, in a video released by Formula One on Saturday and featuring 19 of the 20 drivers.

“Please do your bit,” said Verstappen.

“Get vaccinated, I think it’s the sensible thing to do,” added Germany’s quadruple champion Sebastian Vettel, who races for Aston Martin.

“We need to be in this together and we need to be all in the same boat,” said Spain’s double champion Fernando Alonso.

Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen, the 2007 world champion who will be retiring after Sunday’s race aged 42, was not featured. The Finn tested positive for the virus in September and missed two races.

Formula One chief executive Stefano Domenicali said vaccines and boosters were the way ahead.

“We need to keep everyone safe and move forward together. I have had my vaccine and my booster and ask everyone to do the same. Formula One is moving ahead, and we ask for everyone to play their part,” he said.

Formula One teams have operated in a protective bubble with regular testing since last year, although protocols have been eased and fans allowed back at races in numbers.

Seven drivers have tested positive so far: Hamilton, Red Bull’s Sergio Perez, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly, McLaren’s Lando Norris, Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll and Raikkonen.