2020 SAKHIR GRAND PRIX: WHERE MAN AND MACHINE BECOMES ONE
From George Russell's dominance (and misfortune) to Sergio Perez's maiden victory, here's a sum up of what happened at the latest Grand Prix.
What. A. Crazy. Race.
That was my reaction upon seeing the end of the chequered flag of the inaugural Sakhir Grand Prix, a race that was criticized earlier this year due to it being held at the outer ring of Bahrain International Circuit, which means that the circuit is almost oval (or square, there are lots of debates on that one). A grid shake-up occurred when Lewis Hamilton, the reigning 7th-time world champion tested positive for Covid-19. Talks and rumours started to go on about who will replace him at this race, from Stoffel Vandoorne, George Russell, to Nico Hulkenberg. But then it was confirmed that Williams' driver George Russell, who is also the Mercedes junior driver, will be borrowed for the weekend with Jack Aitken substituting him. With Grosjean recovering from his fiery crash the previous weekend, Pietro Fittipaldi replaces him on the grid.
Jack Aitken's F1 debut with Williams, rocking the number 89.
With George Russell being one of the most talented rising star in F1 combined with the Mercedes W11, there was no doubt that the Brit will be flying into the points, or even a race win. As it was clearly seen with practice and qualifying results, with him ended up P2, just 0.026 seconds shy from Merc's other driver Valtteri Bottas.
Race night came, and as the lights went out, the speed of Russell's perfect launch catapulted him into P1, as he started to fly away from Valtteri, who was caught up with other drivers. As Russell scampered off at the front, Bottas ran wide at Turn 2, with Verstappen and the fast-starting Perez going line astern of the Finn as they charged down to Turn 4.
Verstappen, early on the brakes, was trying to keep a safe distance between him and the crowd of Bottas and Perez, until an opportunistic Charles Leclerc launched an attack up the inside of Perez at Turn 4. However, Charles failed to get his Ferrari slowed down sufficiently, locked up his brakes, punted the Racing Point and spinning him around, as Leclerc – with left-front suspension damage – slithered into the wall. Unfortunately for Verstappen, when he was trying to avoid the chaos, he went to our good old friend of gravel and barrier and put himself out of the race.
The opening shenanigans prompted the safety car to come out, neutralising the field. Lando Norris incredibly moved up from P19 to P10. While that's going on, Perez took an early pitstop to recover from the damage earlier, putting him on P18. Ouch.
Safety Car ended, and Russell was on the move into the lead again. Perez, meanwhile, charged through the field, making up 7 places to P11 by lap 15 with the Mercedes-powered RP20, and ended up in the points zone by lap 20. Couple laps later, he overtook Alex Albon in the Red Bull, utilizing a very small gap.
An epic battle between the Pink Panther and the Red Bull
Around Lap 45, Russell was brought in to box, emerging on P2 afterwards. After a brief worry when he feared he was losing power – remedied by a switch change – Russell got on with it, to the extent that by the time Bottas came in for the same tyre four laps later, the Finn emerged eight seconds down on his new team mate, and presumably wondering what he had to do to win a race in the latter half of this season.
Meanwhile, Perez was on the move, securing P4 from his teammate Lance Stroll, before passing Renault's Esteban Ocon into P3. Suddenly, Jack Aitken in the Williams suffered a tank-slapper at the last corner, wiping the front wing off his Williams and ducking into the pits for a new front wing.
With advantage at their hands, Mercedes decided to duoble-stack the pit for both Russell and Bottas, with Russell entering the pits first. Who would've thought that this decision will unraveled their whole chaotic night, with the pit crew accidentally mixed Bottas' tyres with Russell's car. Bottas was held for 27 seconds, to the point his brake caught fire, and unfortunately he had to put his old hard compound back. Meanwhile, Russell was told to pit again to change his tyres again. He rejoined the track in P5, one spot behind Bottas.
From P5, he went on to full attack mode, approaching Bottas and took him on the outside at Turn 6, which some has been described as "one of the most beautiful overtaking move." Charging through the field, he passed Stroll and Ocon into P2, before he got a puncture and had to pit, re-joining the field in 15th place, but quickly rose up to P9 at the last moment to secure his first points in the World Drivers' Championship. 3 points to be exact. Ahhh.
Meanwhile for Perez, having rose up to P1, simply needs to enjoy a smooth run to an astonishing first win in Formula 1, an event that he has been waiting for after 190 race starts. As the final lap ensued, the Racing Point pit wall cheered their first victory, and in the cockpit of the RP20, Perez couldn't hold back the tears, as he thanked the team that he has been with since 2014, named Force India back then.
The tears of joy went on, as Esteban Ocon finished P2, claiming his first Formula 1 podium.
Carlos Sainz at one point looked like he was set to take his second podium of the season, but eventually had to settle for what was nonetheless a fine fourth, ahead of Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo and Red Bull’s Alex Albon – who will surely have felt the pressure get turned up a notch after Perez’s sensational P18 to P1 drive.
For Mercedes however, it was a bittersweet night, particularly for their super-sub, George Russell. He went on to say that he was gutted, but thankful for the opportunity to the Silver Arrows, and it has been a pleasure.
Well folks, what a race. This race really showcased that when the man and the machine works in perfect harmony, anything could be achieved, as proved by Sergio Perez and George Russell (albeit having to wear smaller shoes and didn't know all the buttons on the Merc). Tonight, we witnessed a winner and a rising star.