By Abhishek Takle
MANAMA (Reuters) - Seven-times Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton said he was devastated after testing positive for COVID-19 and being ruled out of Sunday's penultimate race of the season in Bahrain.
It will be the first time the 35-year-old Mercedes driver has missed a race in an F1 career that started with McLaren in 2007.
The sport's most successful driver of all time, with a record 95 wins and 98 pole positions, said on social media that he had tested negative three times in the past week but woke up on Monday with mild symptoms.
The Briton said he then requested another test which came back positive and he immediately started a 10-day self-isolation, ruling out the Sakhir Grand Prix and raising doubts about the Abu Dhabi finale on the following weekend.
"I'm gutted not to be able to race this weekend but my priority is to follow the protocols and advice to protect others," he said.
"I'm really lucky that I feel OK with only mild symptoms and will do my best to stay fit and healthy."
Hamilton said he and his team had taken all possible precautions and followed all regulations to stay safe since the season started.
Mercedes said he tested negative at the circuit on Sunday afternoon but he had been informed on Monday that "a contact prior to arrival in Bahrain had subsequently tested positive."
The Briton wrapped up his record-equalling seventh title in Turkey last month and picked up his 11th win of the season in Bahrain on Sunday.
Mercedes have already won the constructors' title for an unprecedented seventh year in a row.
Hamilton will not now be able to match the record for the most wins in a single season. Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel share that mark with 13.
Hamilton was also on a record run of 48 successive points finishes and has started 265 races in a row.
Mercedes said they would announce a replacement driver for Sakhir in due course.
Belgian Stoffel Vandoorne, who races for the Mercedes Formula E team and had been scheduled to fly to Bahrain even before Hamilton's positive result, and Mexican Esteban Gutierrez are the team's reserve drivers.
Briton George Russell, who races for Mercedes-powered Williams, is also on their books.
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff said in October that every precaution was being taken to shield Hamilton and team mate Valtteri Bottas from the pandemic, with internal debriefs and engineering meetings taking place via video call.
Hamilton has stayed in his motorhome at most circuits, with races confined to Europe before the final Middle Eastern triple-header, and returning to Monaco afterwards where physio Angela Cullen forms part of his protective 'bubble'.
He posted video on Instagram on Nov. 22, a week after winning the title, of himself playing tennis with father Anthony, however.
Formula One has seen a clutch of high-profile COVID-19 cases, with Red Bull sporting director Jonathan Wheatley testing positive last week and Williams acting team principal Simon Roberts missing the Turkish Grand Prix.
Both Racing Point drivers, Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll, and team owner Lawrence Stroll tested positive earlier in the year.
Formula One started a shortened 17-race season in July after the Australian opener in March was cancelled when a McLaren employee tested positive.
The sport has strict rules in place to try to keep the novel coronavirus at bay. Personnel cannot access the paddock without a negative result and are tested every five days. Teams also do their own tests.
(Additional reporting by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Peter Rutherford and Christian Radnedge)