Formula 1

ANALYSIS: Assessing the Field – 2020 BAHRAIN GRAND PRIX

8 Mins read
Photo credit: LAT Images

The FIA Formula 1 World Championship returned to the Middle East for the first time since the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in November 2019, to begin the end of season triple header with the Bahrain Grand Prix

A pretty standard scene was set on Saturday, with Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team heading up the grid with Lewis Hamiton on pole and Valtteri Bottas in second, and Max Verstappen and Alexander Albon of Aston Martin Red Bull Racing lining up behind. 

However, as the pack made their way around the first competitive lap of the race, a terrifying collision occurred involving Haas F1 Team’s Romain Grosjean. Romain’s VF-20 crashed into the armco barrier on the exit of Turn 2 with the force of 53G, slicing through the metal before splitting in two and releasing a fireball. Romain was luckily able to escape with only minor burns to the back of his hands – a credit to the leaps and bounds of the safety measures of the sport. 

The race got back underway an hour later after the barrier was replaced and we saw Hamilton take his 97th career victory from Verstappen and Albon, who celebrated his second career podium to the detriment of Racing Point Formula One Team’s Sergio Perez’s retirement in the final laps of the race – this lead to the race ending under safety car conditions. 

Racing Point suffered an unlucky roll of the dice in the battle for third in the constructors’ championship, scoring no points over the weekend following Perez’s Power Unit failure from third place on lap 54, and team-mate Lance Stroll’s roll following the race restart. Luckily Stroll was uninjured in the collision with Scuderia Alpha Tauri’s Daniil Kvyat, proclaiming: “I’m hanging upside down” on the radio before crawling out of his upturned RP-20. 

McLaren were able to capitalise on Racing Point’s non-finish with Lando Norris moving up from ninth at the start to fourth and Carlos Sainz Jr. having fought through the order from sixteenth to fifth. 

TOP OF THE CLASS

Romain Grosjean – Haas F1 Team 

Qualifying margin to team-mate: – 0.027s | Race margin to team-mate: DNF

Romain’s escape from the inferno that engulfed his VF-20, was a masterclass in itself- if that’s the right word. From the moment the pictures panned to the incident, I think fans feared the worst, but in what felt like the longest twenty seconds or so later, the Frenchman emerged from the flames with the helping hand of Dr. Ian Roberts. 

It was a testament to the safety measures and procedures that are now in place to protect the drivers from severe injury, and worse. Those who have campaigned for the implementation of extra protection from back in the old days of Formula 1 are a credit to the sport and have saved a life on Sunday. The safety cell, the halo and the fire-resistant overalls and underlayers worked as they should have done and it was such a relief to see Romain walk away, and better yet, post updates from his hospital bed at the Bahrain Defence Force Hospital in positive spirits beaming from ear to ear. 

It is reported that the Frenchman is determined to participate in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit in two weeks time, in the meantime Pietro Fittipaldi will be stepping in for the Sakhir Grand Prix. 

Max Verstappen – Aston Martin Red Bull Racing 

Qualifying margin to team-mate: – 0.596s | Race margin to team-mate: -6.751s

Again, Max was the closest contender to the Mercedes pair, in particular Lewis Hamilton. The Dutchman kept the gap close throughout the early stages of the race, to around one second. It was a shame for the safety car to be called out to recover Perez in the closing stages of the race as I’m sure he would’ve been able to capitalise on a restart, however the race finished under safety car conditions. Max has now firmly cemented his third place in the Drivers’ Championship. 

Alexander Albon – Aston Martin Red Bull Racing 

Qualifying margin to team-mate: +0.596s | Race margin to team-mate: +6.751s

Every week it seems there are debates over Alex’s seat at Red Bull… He has ‘earned’ his place at the team, whoever is in that second seat alongside Verstappen is never going to be a match for him and it seems that the comparisons should end here. Alex had an incredibly strong race and it was really pleasing to see him there on the podium for the second time this season. 

Lando Norris – McLaren F1 Team

Qualifying margin to team-mate: Sainz out Q2 | Race margin to team-mate: -0.45s

Lando qualified in ninth place and made a great start off the line before the first lap red flag, having picked up some minor damage. After the restart Norris was sitting pretty in fifth place for the majority of the race, defending from the Renault of Ocon. He continued to retain fourth position from his team mate at the flag. Lando now sits one point ahead of his teammate Sainz – seventh in the Drivers’ Championship. 

Carlos Sainz Jr. – McLaren F1 Team 

Qualifying margin to team-mate: Out Q2, no time set | Race margin to team-mate: +0.45

Sainz had a disappointing start to the weekend, having not made it out of Q2 due to brake failure on his MCL35. The Spaniard started the race in fifteenth place, and by lap nine was in ninth place behind his midfield rival Daniel Ricciardo. A rare mistake from Ricciardo helped Sainz with his move on the Australian, to take eighth place. Later, Sainz was all over Leclerc and dived down the inside of his future Ferrari team-mate to claim seventh place. 

By the end of the race Sainz was breathing down the neck of his team-mate Norris, as Perez suffered engine failure – the McLaren pair were promoted a place each to fourth and fifth place. 

Sainz now sits eighth, one point behind his team-mate, in the Drivers’ Championship, after one of the best points-scoring weekends McLaren has had all season. 

Lewis Hamilton – Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team 

Qualifying margin to team-mate: – 0.289s | Race margin to team-mate: Bottas -19.680s

Lewis Hamilton started the race on pole and got a clear getaway off the line into the lead. The Brit mastered the restart following Grosjean’s collision. In spite of subsequent safety car restart, Hamilton was able to then regain a four second advantage over Verstappen before the final safety car of the race was deployed in lieu of Perez’s power unit failure and recovery of the RP-20. 

Hamilton scored his eleventh win of the season and 95th his F1 career. 

HOMEWORK TO DO

Valtteri Bottas – Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team 

Qualifying margin to team-mate: +0.289s | Race margin to team-mate: +19.680s

Bottas lost ground as the lights went out the first time to Verstappen . Come the restart, he lined up in fourth and a battle ensued with Perez to reclaim third. After picking up debris, Bottas pitted on lap nine and rejoined the field in sixteenth place. From this point the race was merely a recovery drive from the Finn. While in seventh, he pitted and rejoined in 14th place. 

It was far from a fine race for Bottas, who was plagued by punctures and the initial poor start, could only maximise his pace to cross the line on lap 57 in eighth place – it didn’t end there: on the final lap, it was suspected Bottas had suffered another puncture. 

With his team-mate Hamilton out of the Sakhir Grand Prix on the ‘Oval’ layout, this weekend coming, Bottas will have the added pressure to outperform Hamilton’s replacement. 

Daniil Kvyat – Scuderia Alpha Tauri 

Qualifying margin to team-mate: +0.17s | Race margin to team-mate: +1 lap

Kyvat has had an unlucky race, having been involved in both of the major collisions which occurred during the race. The Russian did rightly receive a penalty for the collision with Stroll, where he was given a 10 second stop-go penalty, but that discussion ends here. Yes, it was a less than ideal race for Kvyat, but it was a case of wrong place, wrong time in the first instance. 

Sebastian Vettel – Scuderia Ferrari 

Qualifying margin to team-mate: – 0.016s | Race margin to team-mate: +1 lap

Following his third place and first podium since the 2019 Mexican Grand Prix, I think we expected a top ten finish, at least, from Vettel this weekend. It was disappointing to see the Ferrari revert back to standard 2020 procedure and furthermore, the radio message from Vettel, come the restart. Vettel expressed his disappointment at his teammate Leclerc, for failing to leave a sufficient gap on the racing line. In the radio message Vettel highlighted a previous incident which happened between the two teammates at the Austrian Grand Prix where they had become too close for comfort. Vettel had then suggested that it may have been easier for him to have crashed at that moment that had been squeezed out of position by his teammate Leclerc. Heat of the moment for sure. The German finished in thirteenth just behind the Williams of George Russell. 

Charles Leclerc – Scuderia Ferrari

Qualifying margin to team-mate: +0.016s | Race margin to team-mate: +1 lap

Charles Leclerc finished the race, a lap down in 10th place after having been trapped between the front runners. The Monegasque racer had been in the top 10 at the first stage of the race but then quickly dropped back out of the points where he had stayed for the majority of the latter stages of race. He had been encompassed in a battle with the other midfield races in the first half of the race but the lack of pace shown by the Ferrari was pretty evident after Carlos Sainz overtook the SF1000 of Leclerc at the end of the straight towards the halfway stage of the race. Soon after Leclerc lost another position to Renault’s Ricciardo. He did fare better than his team-mate Vettel, but it wasn’t the best we’ve seen from Leclerc, with the start of the race looking promising for the 23-year-old. 

Lance Stroll – BWT Racing Point Formula One Team

Qualifying margin to team-mate: Out in Q2 | Race margin to team-mate: DNF

It feels a little bit wrong placing Lance Stroll here considering his retirement front the race wasn’t his fault. Contact with Kvyat – which he rightly received a 10 second stop-go penalty for – saw the Canadian’s race turn upside down (sorry!) soon after the restart. What made this feel worse, is that the race had been red-flagged for around an hour in the wake of Grosjean’s collision and had just got going again when the RP-20 flipped over. It also signalled another weekend where Stroll failed to score a point for the team, having made the Bahrain Grand Prix the seventh race in which to do so, following his first career podium at Monza back in September. 

Photo credit: BWT Racing Point Formula One Team

REST OF THE FIELD

Renault DP World F1 Team’s Ricciardo and Ocon finished in the top ten, scoring crucial points for the team’s battle for third place in the Constructors’ Championship, however McLaren outperformed them this time round. They both lost out on position to Sainz, who had shown strong pace through the entire 57 lap race. Ricciardo had made a rare mistake, which assisted Sainz’s charge through the pack. 

George Russell once again finished just outside of the points, two places shy of tenth, in twelfth place – it was a relatively quiet race for the Brit who is now in the midst of rumours of who is going to replace Hamilton for the Sakhir Grand Prix alongside Mercedes reserve driver Stoffel Vandoorne. Russell’s team-mate Nicholas Latifi also had a quiet race, having stayed out of trouble, finishing the race two places behind in fourteenth place. Great results for the Williams Racing pair, but they have yet again failed to score any points. 

Alfa Romeo Racing ORLEN’s Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi had a seemingly uneventful weekend, with the pair avoiding trouble and finishing the race in fifteenth and sixteenth place respectively. 

Despite having seen his Haas team-mate Grosjean in a frightening position earlier on in the race, Kevin Magnussen was able to continue the race and finish seventeenth overall. 

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