Sergio Perez wins frenetic Sakhir Grand Prix!
Calamitous Mercedes Pitstop throws victory away – full race recap and results.
An emotional Sergio Perez has won his first grand prix after an exceptional drive which saw him at the back of the pack after lap 1. The actioned-packed race produced one of the most unexpected podiums under the lights in Sakhir as we witnessed Renault’s Esteban Ocon take his first career podium, and Lance Stroll’s 3rd place resulting in Racing Point’s first ever double podium finish.
With Champion Lewis Hamilton out after a positive Coronavirus test, all eyes were on his replacement George Russell who missed out on pole by just 0.026 seconds to his teammate for the weekend Valtteri Bottas, and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen starting in 3rd who would have fancied his chances of a race victory with main rival Hamilton out of action. Despite being in a new team, with an unfamiliar car in a cockpit that was too small for him, Russell showed his class by acing the start and leaping into the lead in the opening corners. A poor getaway from Bottas left the chasing pack snapping at his heels, but an over-optimistic move from Charles Leclerc after starting 4th saw the young Ferrari driver lock up and punt into Sergio Perez on the 3rd corner. The impact destroyed the front left wheel of the Ferrari and ended Leclerc’s race before it had barely begun, and Perez was fortunate not to sustain any damage himself, despite now being at the back of the field. Verstappen, in his attempt to avoid getting tangled in the crash went wide and slithered into the gravel, which proved to be a one-way ticket to the barriers. After coming under intense pressure on the opening corners Bottas can be considered fortunate to have only lost 1 position, and with 3 drivers whom a podium would have been a target for involved in a lap 1 crash, the midfield teams could sense a step on the rostrum was up for grabs.
Lap 7 saw the safety car come in and the race resume with Russell leading, Bottas right behind, but the young Brit handled the restart superbly and it was instead his more experienced rival that came under pressure yet again, McLaren’s Carlos Sainz briefly moving up to 2nd before Mercedes resumed their 1-2 formation and began opening a gap to the rest of the field. Using the short outer ring at the Bahrain International Circuit, at just 3.54km long the laps came thick and fast, and by lap 20 (of 87) Russell had built a 2.5s lead, with Sergio Perez moving himself from the back of the field and into the top 10. Due to the short nature of the lap, and less degradation than anticipated, Mercedes were able to extend their pit strategy for both drivers, waiting until lap 45 before eventually bringing in leader Russell. If Russell was feeling any pressure, he was not letting it show, opening up a 3 second gap before his stop, but a heart in the mouth moment on his out lap resulted in a ‘no power’ shout over the radio, although this could have simply been inexperience with the car setup as a change of settings and a series of fastest laps alleviated fears of mechanical gremlins, ultimately building an 8 second lead after his teammates pitstop was completed on lap 49.
Although making good progress in the early stages of the race, the turning point for Perez came on lap 55 as the Williams of Latifi pulled up to the side of the track and out of the race, drawing out a Virtual Safety Car. McLaren and Renault called in Sainz and Ricciardo for a ‘cheap’ stop under VSC conditions, but the stranded car was quickly recovered, and racing resumed before they could even enter the pitlane, shuffling both cars down from 3rd and 4th to 7th and 8th respectively. Perez was bumped up to 5th and was able to capitalise on a lock up from his teammate to move into 4th, before making a move on Renault’s Esteban Ocon a lap later to move himself up to 3rd and on a hard tyre more than capable of seeing him through to the end of the race, and what looked like would be the best that could be achieved with the Mercedes of Russell and Bottas ahead by some 20 seconds.
Continuing to complain of a loss of power, lap 62 is when George Russell’s fairy-tale would become a nightmare. With Russell promoted to the Mercedes team, Jack Aitken made his Formula 1 debut at Williams, but an unforced error saw him spin on the last corner and the Brit was lucky his first F1 race did not end early as he hit the barrier, losing his front wing in the process but able to continue. Debris was strewn onto the track, and with sub 60 second lap times there was no opportunity for marshals to clear the circuit under yellow flags, so a full safety car was deployed. Mercedes took the opportunity to pit both their drivers. The championship leaders opted to double stack both cars, and the usually flawless execution vanished; Russell was apparently able to get in and out relatively pain free, although nowhere near the 2second stop that has become common place, but Bottas’ stop was shambles, with no tyres ready to go on his car, there then appeared to be a problem on the front left, but the wheelman realised the team had made a fatal mistake with their tyres and brought out the wrong set. Bottas was eventually released, with the same tyres on that he entered the pits with but down in 5th and completely out of contention for race victory in what many considered a must-win race with Hamilton not present. An urgent message to leader Russell revealed the extent of Mercedes calamitous error, having fitted Bottas’ tyres to Russell’s car, forcing the Brit in for his second stop in as many laps, demoting him to 5th and looking at the back of his teammates car for the first time this race.
Calming words from his race engineer encouraged Russell that all was not lost as they would have immense pace on the quicker soft tyres, and so was the case, Russell swiftly moved past Bottas on his old tyres and made short work of Stroll and Ocon to move up from 5th to 2nd in 3 laps, and set to chase down Perez, who had capitalised on the champions error to take the lead of the race with 15 laps remaining. Bottas, hung out to dry on his old tyres was an easy target for those behind, and the Finn lost 3 places in the space of a lap falling to 8th, whilst his temporary teammate was narrowing the gap to Perez to just 2.5seconds and it looked to be only a matter of time before he caught the Racing Point, before heartbreak struck on lap 79 as the Mercedes was hit by a slow puncture, forcing yet another stop for Russell. Having led for nearly the entirety of the race, Russell was now 15th, and facing the prospect of still failing to score his first formula 1 points.
With Perez leading from Ocon, Stroll and Sainz, it looked like whatever happened in the handful of laps that remained we would be seeing a first-time winner, and the order was maintained to see the Mexican take his first ever victory in F1 after his 190th race start in the unlikeliest of circumstances. Russell was eventually able to recover to 9th place to secure the first points of his career, but it was a case of what could have been after leading the race for so long only to see it unravel in such spectacular fashion in the final phase of the grand prix. Remarkably, despite usually driving for the backmarkers Williams, Russell is now 3rd in the ‘laps led’ standings for this season, behind only Hamilton and Bottas.
Throughout his career at Racing Point (formerly known as Force India) Perez has consistently got the most out of the car, often able to pull out seemingly impossibly long tyre stints whilst demonstrating race craft that you would think make him an attractive proposition for any team. Despite this, Perez finds himself without a drive for next year, and with his only option the second seat at Red Bull the Mexican faces the very real prospect of not being in F1 next season, making his victory today just that little bit sweeter.
The double podium for Racing Point could prove to be the pivotal moment in the battle for 3rd in the constructors, as they leapfrog McLaren and move 10 points clear of their closest rivals with just 1 race to go. Renault finished 2nd and 5th scoring 28 points keep the pressure on McLaren, who only managed 13 points, with Carlos Sainz 4th and Lando Norris only able to recover to 10th after starting at the back of the grid following an engine change. With millions of dollars of prize money up for grabs, the finale at Abu Dhabi is sure to be full of excitement as this condensed F1 season draws to a close. Unfortunately, it will be without Romain Grosjean, who has been unable to recover sufficiently from his injuries following his devastating crash last weekend in which he was lucky to walk away from, although the Frenchman has already been offered a fair well test drive from Mercedes to draw a close to his F1 career when he has suitably recovered. It means it is likely there will be a second Grand Prix start for substitute Pietro Fittipaldi at Haas, who alongside fellow rookie Jack Aitkin at Williams stepped up and put in good early performance against their more esteemed rivals in cars that have struggled for performance throughout the year. The rookies were ultimately the last of the runners, although Aitkin demonstrated good race craft against the most experienced driver, Kimi Raikkonen, before his crash demoted him to the back of the grid. With Grosjean out and Hamilton’s status unconfirmed there could be another big opportunity for these 2 rookies at last race of the year in Abu Dhabi. Join us in just 1 weeks’ time as we conclude one of the most remarkable seasons in recent history, in this most unpredictable of years.
Winner: Sergio Perez
Fastest Lap: George Russell (0.55.404)
Driver of the Day: George Russell
Pos Driver Team Time Pts
1 S. Pérez Racing Point 1:31:15.114 25
2 E. Ocon Renault +10.518s 18
3 L. Stroll Racing Point +11.869s 15
4 C. Sainz Jr. McLaren +12.580s 12
5 D. Ricciardo Renault +13.330s 10
6 A. Albon Red Bull +13.842s 8
7 D. Kvyat AlphaTauri +14.534s 6
8 V. Bottas Mercedes +15.389s 4
9 G. Russell Mercedes +18.556s 3
10 L. Norris McLaren +19.541s 1
11 P. Gasly AlphaTauri +20.527s 0
12 S. Vettel Ferrari +22.611s 0
13 A. Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo +24.111s 0
14 K. Räikkönen Alfa Romeo +26.153s 0
15 K. Magnussen Haas +32.370s 0
16 J. Aitken Williams +33.674s 0
17 P. Fittipaldi Haas +36.858s 0
18 N. Latifi Williams DNF 0
19 M. Verstappen Red Bull DNF 0
20 C. Leclerc Ferrari DNF 0