Formula 1 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix: Perez Takes Sublime First Race Win After 190 Starts

Grand Prix

Dec 11th, 2020

Formula 1 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix: Perez Takes Sublime First Race Win After 190 Starts

Formula 1 2020 Sakhir GP was held at the Bahrain International Circuit at Sakhir, Bahrain. This was the second race on the same circuit but on a different track layout called the outer loop. Simulations prior to the race predicted the fastest lap times in the history of F1. It was the penultimate race of the season, and there were plenty of fights going on for different places in the constructors’ and driver's championship. 

Stand-in Stands Out in His First Merc Race; Perez Takes Much-Needed Win in the 2020 F1 Sakhir GP

Last-hour changes were in order as Lewis Hamilton was forced to miss the first-ever Sakhir GP. To replace the 7-time champion, Mercedes handpicked George Russell, who did an outstanding job by qualifying on the front row of the grid alongside pole-sitter Bottas. It must be noted that Russell's team, Williams, is Mercedes’ long-time F1 power-partner. 

The 22-year-old stand-in, whom Mercedes GP executive direcdtor Toto Wolff later referred to as the ‘new star’ born, was on course to win the first race of his career if not for a series of events that dropped the Mercs out of top 5. While it dashed Russell’s blazing start, what happened next proved lucky for other teams. Racing Point's Sergio ‘Checo’ Perez won the race in a dramatic fashion ahead of Renault's Esteban Ocon and his teammate Lance Stroll. 

Another emerging drama here is that Perez does not yet have seat in the 2021 season and could be looking at an early sabbatical from F1. Would the Sakhir round change the Mexican’s fate and enable him to come back on the grid next year? Well, Red Bull’s Dr. Helmut Marko was amongst the first to congratulate him on his win, so we’ll see after Abu Dhabi!

Pre-Race Preparations Thursday: Drivers Line-up Changes As F1 2020 Season Draws to a Close

The weather was expected to be dry and pleasant for the race weekend, which was going to be a proper night race unlike the twilight Bahrain GP. Aside from Russell replacing Hamilton, there were quite a few other changes in the drivers lineup for the Sakhir GP.

Lewis Hamilton tested positive for coronavirus on Monday and had to isolate himself according to FIA guidelines. Mercedes chose Russell of Williams instead of their official reserve driver Stoffel Vandoorne. Williams then had to bring in Jack Aitken to fill the seat vacated by George Russell.

Haas announced that Pietro Fittipaldi would drive for them in place of injured Roman Grosjean, who survived a life-threatening accident in the earlier Bahrain GP.

Friday Practice: Russell Shines in FP1-FP2

The single thing that stood out from both practice sessions was that George Russell was fastest for Mercedes and finished on top ahead of Bottas. Data analysis also confirmed that Mercedes was the team to beat. Racing Point was second fastest on single-lap pace, but 0.4sec/lap slower than the Mercedes. Red Bull was the third fastest, Renault 4th, Alpha Tauri 5th, and McLaren 6th on the list.

With the lap being very short, Mercedes did not have enough margin on long-run pace, and they were only 0.2sec/lap faster than the Red Bull. Racing Point was again very quick on the race pace and was only 0.5sec/lap slower than the Silver Arrows. Alpha Tauri was 4th 0.7sec/lap slower, and Renault completed the top 5. McLaren did not enjoy the same pace advantage that they had over their rivals during the last weekend's Bahrain GP. 

Saturday Practice: Verstappen Outpaces Them All in FP3

Max Verstappen sprang a surprise at the end of the FP3 and went quickest ahead of the Mercedes of Valterri Bottas. George Russell, who was sharp throughout the Friday practice sessions, was only the 7th quickest. It looked like there would be something to watch for qualifying as it was Red Bull's only chance to secure a pole position during the 2020 season. Pierre Gasly was a surprise third ahead of Ocon and Lando Norris.

Qualifying

Mercedes started the qualifying by progressing on a set of medium tyres compared to everybody else. Verstappen was second quickest albeit on a set of soft tyres. There were three drivers driving for new teams, and only Russell was able to get out of the Q1 session. Williams Jack Aitken, Pietro Fittipaldi of Haas, Magnussen, Latifi and Raikkonen were all eliminated at the end of Q1.

Second qualifying was no different as Mercedes was the only team to qualify for the race on a set of medium tyres. There were a few surprises behind them as McLaren's Lando Norris after making a few mistakes qualified 15th, while Albon failed to reach Q3. 

By the end of first hot laps, Max Verstappen had grabbed provisional pole position ahead of Charles Leclerc. Mercedes drivers were only 3rd and 5th quickest, but they did the runs on used soft tyres. Final qualifying runs saw all ten drivers heading out on brand new soft tyres, and it was Bottas who qualified on pole for the first-ever Sakhir GP ahead of George Russell who was behind by only 0.022 sec. Verstappen was 3rd in his usual spot, Leclerc 4th, Perez 5th, Kvyat 6th, Ricciardo 7th, Sainz 8th, Gasly 9th and Lance Stroll 10th.

Sunday Race: Russell Loses Race But Wins Hearts at the 2020 F1 Sakhir Grand Prix

George Russell made a great start from the dirty side of the grid and was leading the race going into the first corner ahead of Bottas. But at the exit of turn 2, Bottas did not make a clean exit and got himself sandwiched between the Dutchman and the Mexican. Leclerc, who started 4th, tried to overtake Perez into turn 3 but ended up in the barriers along with Verstappen, and this sent them both out of the race. Luck was on the side of Perez, but he was running last by the end of lap 1. The Safety Car was deployed to recover the vehicles of Leclerc and Verstappen. On lap 7, when the race restarted, the order was Russell, Bottas, Sainz, Ricciardo, and Kvyat completing the top 5.

The eventual race winner flew from his last position and into the points by the end of lap 20. Sainz was doing an excellent job for McLaren in third and was holding a decent gap from behind. He made his first pitstop in lap 28. The race flew by quickly on the shorter 2.2-mile outer loop of the circuit, and by the end of lap 44, George Russell led the race from Bottas (both yet to stop) and Perez. Albon, who started in P12, was also on medium tyres and was running 4th, ahead of Sainz on 5th. Mercedes pitted Russell on lap 45 and Bottas on lap 49 for new hard tyres.

Lap 55 saw Latifi pull to the side of the track due to an engine problem and a Virtual Safety Car was deployed to remove the car from the danger zone. Sainz and Ricciardo pitted from 4th and 5th to take advantage of the VSC, but as soon as they entered the pits, the VSC ended, and they came out 7th and 8th well outside the fight for the podium. 

Jack Aitken of Williams smashed the car coming out of the final corner, and as a result, the broken front wing lay in the middle of the track. A second Safety Car was deployed, at which point Mercedes decided to make a double pitstop to cover any safety car threat. The team's broken radio communication mixed up everything. It had Russell taking on Bottas' tyres and doing another pitstop to change to his own tyres. 

Mercedes considers this bungled pitstop a technical (not human) error. Nonetheless, it's so monumental that it caused Russell to lose the race that he was evidently winning and Mercedes to end up paying a 20,000-euro fine. But. While the incident took away Russell’s potential win, it could not take away the solid, brilliant drive that the young driver valiantly fought in the laps that followed.   

The race restarted on lap 69, and Perez was leading ahead of Ocon, Stroll, Bottas and Russell. Russell quickly climbed to 2nd on fresh tyres but had to pit again due to slow puncture on the left rear tyre and came out in 15th place. At the head of the field, Perez controlled the race beautifully and won the first-ever race of his career and the first race win of the Racing Point team. Renault's Ocon finished 2nd taking his first career podium ahead of Lance Stroll.

Carlos Sainz finished 4th, Ricciardo 5th, Albon 6th, Kvyat 7th, Bottas 8th, Russell 9th, and Lando Norris 10th. This was an F1 race to watch. And watch again!

F1 2020 Abu Dhabi GP: Let’s Not Miss the Finale! 

The F1 show moves to the man-made island of Yas Marina in Abu Dhabi for the 17th and final race of the 2020 F1 season. This last triple-header undoubtedly built up the F1 drama – from the literally ‘fiery’ race in the Bahrain GP to the botched pitstops in the Sakhir GP, from near-deaths to near-wins. We’ve seen them all, and we’re ready to watch the grand finale – on to Abu Dhabi!