The 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix came as a culmination of a busy, drama-filled week in Formula 1, all with bittersweet endings.
Romain Grosjean left hospital on Tuesday following his fiery crash last Sunday during the opening lap of the Bahrain Grand Prix, and by Sunday he had announced he will not be returning to the track for the final race of the season at Abu Dhabi. Pietro Fittipaldi was announced to stand-in for the injured Frenchman for the remaining races of the season.
What followed was something not even the experts could have predicted. Lewis Hamilton, fresh from his 95th career victory, tested positive for COVID-19 and was unable to race in the Sakhir Grand Prix due to the isolation period. In this time there was a flurry of driver swapping, with George Russell stepping in to the seven-time world champion’s seat at the Mercedes AMG-Petronas F1 Team, while FIA Formula 2 racer Jack Aitken sat in for George at Williams Racing. While this was going on even before the sessions started for Sakhir, Haas F1 Team announced their 2021 drivers Nikita Mazepin and 2020 Formula 2 champion and Ferrari Academy member Mick Schumacher.
There was mounting pressure for Russell to show the world what he is truly made of, and for Valtteri Bottas to outperform the newbie. Russell topped both of Friday’s practice sessions and qualified second behind Bottas. But the race winner was neither of the Mercedes duo, in fact neither Mercedes landed a place on the podium. Sergio Pérez, has started 190 grands prix without a win, but the wait was finally over, and the Mexican took victory on Sunday. Racing Point Formula One Team had a double podium celebration with Lance Stroll crossing the line in third place. Renault DP World F1 Team had another strong race, with Esteban Ocon scoring his first career podium – a second place finish.
TOP OF THE CLASS
Sergio Pérez – BWT Racing Point Formula One Team
Qualifying margin to team-mate: -0.41s | Race margin to team-mate: -11.869s
We’re not going to ask the question that’s asked every time Pérez has an amazing race, so we’re going to gloss over it and celebrate his first career victory.
It’s been 190 races since the Mexican made his debut in Formula 1 for Sauber back in 2011, and his first win has been a long time coming – at the start of the race, you wouldn’t have thought that this would be a mere possibility. First lap contact with Scuderia Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc saw Perez avoid a race-ending collision and rejoin in last pace. As everyone was focussed on Russell debuting at Mercedes, in the background Perez worked his way up the field on the medium tyres he switched to during the first safety car. For the final stint of the race, Perez switched to the hard compound and made gains on team-mate Lance Stroll and Ocon. With the Mercedes pair out of the running due to the botched pit stop, the victory belonged to Perez.
I think it’s safe to say, although we were disappointed to see George’s first win and podium be taken from him, this one belonged to Checo.
Esteban Ocon – Renault DP World F1 Team
Qualifying margin to team-mate: Out in Q2 | Race margin to team-mate: -2.812s
Ocon had a wonderful race. Starting from eleventh, the Frenchman capitalised on the lap one collision between Perez, Leclerc and Verstappen – who crashed while avoiding it, before working his way further up the field through the fast, 87 lap race. Ocon hasn’t had the best of seasons, with four retirements and best-place finishes of fifth place, so it was brilliant to see the 24-year-old reap a reward from his performance, with his maiden podium.
Lance Stroll – BWT Racing Point Formula One Team
Qualifying margin to team-mate: +0.41s | Race margin to team-mate: +11.869s
Lance Stroll is another who has had quite an unlucky second half of the season. Having scored his maiden podium with third place in Monza, since then the Canadian has retired four out of the seven races he entered (his entry was withdrawn from the Eifel Grand Prix due to testing positive for COVID-19) and only twice in the points, including Sunday’s third place. For the team, it was a testament to their hardwork having both their drivers on the podium, having cemented their position at the head of the midfield in the race for third place in the Constructors’ Championship.
George Russell – Mercedes AMG-Petronas Formula 1 Team
Qualifying margin to team-mate: -0.026s | Race margin to team-mate: +3.167s
Oh George! As we know, the young Brit was drafted in to replace Lewis, due to the seven-time champion’s positive COVID-19 diagnosis, and George isn’t short of talent. Finishing Friday’s practice sessions at the top of the field, and qualifying a mere 20 milliseconds slower than team-mate Bottas to claim second place on the grid, he was in a good position for a strong result. He took the lead off the line and led the race from Bottas for the majority of the race until the final pit call.
Some argued that this final stop wasn’t needed for George as he had a comfortable gap to second, however Bottas’ tyres would go off before the chequered flag. A glitch in the radio system meant that even though there was a late call for a ‘double stack’, the pit crew mixed the tyres up sending both George and Valtteri back down the order. In a heartbreaking end to the race, Russell finished in ninth place when a first win was so certain.
There will be plenty more opportunities, and wins on the cards for Russell in his career so I think we can all let Checo have this one.
Carlos Sainz Jr. – McLaren F1 Team
Qualifying margin to team-mate: Norris out in Q2 | Race margin to team-mate: -6.961s
Carlos Sainz Jr. has really been showing his racing prowess over the latter half season, with his pace and drive for the best results possible, with his MCL35, becoming more apparent as the season went on. The Spaniard finished the race in fourth place, less than a second behind third placed Stroll, having started the Sakhir Grand Prix in eighth. Sainz was in a strong position to contest for podium positions even dicing with Bottas in the early stages for second place. His fourth place here at the Sakhir Grand Prix marked his second best result of the season – alongside third at Monza.
HOMEWORK TO DO
The Mercedes Crew
If the Sakhir Grand Prix was named like an episode of F.R.I.E.N.D.S it would be called ‘The one with the wrong tyres’ or in the words of Team Principal Toto Wolff: ‘The one with the “colossal f**k up”’.
The team was penalised for the error, which saw a last minute radio call during the last safety car of the race allow for the drivers to double stack in the pit lane. The pit crew (they’re only human) confused the tyres which had been brought out, sending race leader Russell out on three of his own tyres and one belonging to his team-mate.
Amid the confusion, Bottas wasn’t given a fresh set of tyres during his pit stop and was released back into play on the set of tyres he planned to ditch during that stop. Russell did come back into the pits soon after the error was realised and the tyres were switched, however this did ruin his race and the team were slapped with a 20,000€ fine.
Bottas was also on for a podium finish, had the pit stop run smoothly, however his hopes were dashed when the tyres degraded rapidly in the remaining laps which was obvious as he had done half race distance on them. The Finn slipped down the order to eighth.
Charles Leclerc – Scuderia Ferrari
Qualifying margin to team-mate: Vettel out in Q2 | Race margin to team-mate: RET
Controversially, this is not the first time we’ve seen moves like this from Leclerc. This time his ambitious nature got the better of him which sent him into the Racing Point of Perez. Assuming here this move so early in the race was linked to the astonishing lap he put in during qualifying to claim fourth place on the grid. Whatever the reasons behind the early take on Perez for position, Leclerc probably lost out on his third podium of the season.
Alexander Albon – Aston Martin Red Bull Racing
Qualifying margin to team-mate: Out in Q2 | Race margin to team-mate: Verstappen RET
Was in two minds on where to place Alexander Albon due to the consistent comparison between him and team-mate Verstappen, however it should be noted throughout the race he climbed from twelfth to sixth place recovering to some solid points. Sixth place isn’t really a position which is expected from the second fastest car on the grid, it’s probably something Verstappen could have bettered, but it’s Albon who’s seat at the team is at the centre of the driver market rumours, and has been for pretty much most of the 2020 season.
THE REST OF THE FIELD
Scuderia Alpha Tauri duo Daniil Kvyat and Pierre Gasly had a fairly straightforward race with Kvyat crossing the line in seventh place with Gasly finishing just out of the points in eleventh place.
Valtteri Bottas had a nightmare race, with the expectation to annihilate Russell during proceedings to ‘prove his worth’ to Mercedes, with fans being negative towards the Finn in the run-up to Sunday’s race. Bottas lost the lead at lights out and the luck ran out during the infamous pit stop towards the end of the race. He did well to contest on tyres old tyres, he tried to ditch during the pit stop but as they deteriorated, he slipped down the order to finish the race in eighth.
Aston Martin Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen was a third party casualty of the lap one incident between Leclerc and Perez. Verstappen skidded into the wall while trying to avoid the initial collision – clumsy.
Hearts came out of our mouths when the camera panned to the same frame we saw Grosjean collide with the barrier at the Bahrain Grand Prix, with Kimi Raikkonen spinning across the track on the first lap. Luckily Raikkonen was able to stop his Alfa Romeo Racing ORLEN C39.
Lando Norris had a poor start to the weekend with the fifteenth-best time qualifying time. The McLaren racer managed to make up five places through the 87 lap race to finish in tenth – just in the points.
Daniel Ricciardo was a victim of the Drag Reduction System (DRS) with those in front capitalising from the DRS zones throughout the race. With Ricciardo at the back of the pack, he was stuck in a ‘DRS train’ for much of the race, unable to better the fifth place he scored when he crossed the line.
There were also debuts in the series for Jack Aitken at Williams Racing, and Pietro Fittipaldi at Haas F1 Team. Both finished the race in sixteenth and seventeenth place. Aitken’s race wasn’t without drama: After losing his front wing, following a collision with the barrier at the last marshal’s post, the Brit pitted and made it back out on track but not without triggering the safety car which ended Russell’s chances of his first win. It made it more ironic that Aitken was in George’s FW43.