For the fourth and final time in 2020, a country held back to back races with Bahrain hosting the penultimate round. Using the outer layout of the Bahrain International Circuit with its much shorter lap distance of 2.2 miles; the shortest in F1 since 1983 Long Beach and the first sub-one-minute laps since 1974. I wasn’t sure how this layout would work but after the dramatic and crazy race it delivered, I am beginning to wonder if F1 could race on it more often!
At 87 laps long, it was the most laps in any race this year. There was also intrigue surrounding driver changes prompted by Romain Grosjean’s horrific incident the previous weekend and Lewis Hamilton’s positive Coronavirus test. With Kimi Raikkonen the oldest on the grid by far it gave a glimpse into what the younger drivers can achieve with George Russell swapping Williams to Mercedes to cover the world champion and did a splendid job. Jack Aitken covered Russell at Williams while Pietro Fittipaldi replaced Grosjean a Haas. It produced opening lap drama, Safety Cars, some fantastic overtaking moves and a new race winner! [Pictured above in the featured image; image from formula1.com].
But first to that opening lap incident at turn 4 involving Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc and Sergio Perez. Having been hunched into a drag race up to turn 4 by Valtteri Bottas. Verstappen in the middle appeared to brake unusually early allowing Perez and Leclerc to be marginally ahead. Perez on the outside turned in and the only thing you could say about the Mexican is he could have anticipated someone trying something down the inside and left a little bit more room. Leclerc, however, appeared to outbreak himself diving late into the turn, much like he did at turn on the second race start with Vettel the week prior. You can view the incident here.
Vettel commented on team radio last week it would be better to make contact but that is what happened to Leclerc this time. He caught Perez, sending the Racing Point into a spin. Verstappen, trying to avoid both cars ran round the outside only to be caught in a gravel trap sending him into the tyre barrier. Perez survived the shunt but ended the opening lap 18th and last.
In post-race interviews, Verstappen criticised Leclerc. ‘I understand he wanted to pass a car but it was just too optimistic. I respect Charles a lot and he is a great driver but I think that was a bit too much’. Leclerc was brutally honest with himself, perhaps too honest as he took full responsibility for the incident. ‘I am not putting the blame on anyone else, if anyone is to blame, it’s me.’ I say, too honest because he seems to have a habit of being his own worst critic. In this case, all it did was make the steward’s job investigating the incident post-race all the more easier. They handed Leclerc a three-place grid penalty for the season finale in Abu Dhabi.
Up to that point, Leclerc had put in a fantastic performance in Sakhir. Ferrari looked really down on performance on this outer layout and he had been a lowly 15th in FP3 before Qualifying. The Monegasque did mighty well to get into Q3 and then sensationally had the confidence to only do one effort early in Q3 content he’d secured 4th. It was an excellent effort undone by his rashness into turn 4. He had a similar incident with Vettel in Austria and almost a week earlier so having had contact again coming in late down the inside on the opening lap, this should be something for Leclerc to reflect on.
Max Verstappen will have felt more aggrieved than either at turn 4. The Dutchman may well have sensed an opportunity to close down Bottas for 2nd in the Championship and even a race win with Hamilton not in contention. Instead, after qualifying just 0.056s shy of pole position, he found himself out of the race on the opening lap through no fault of his own. It was unfortunate for him and red Bull as his long-run pace in FP2 indicated he would be a real threat hence why Christian Horner said it ‘was a great shame as he would have been a real contender for the win today’ especially in a race where Mercedes effectively shot themselves in the foot.
Sakhir Grand Prix Qualifying
Q1: 1st Valtteri Bottas 53.904……………15th Alex Albon 54.620; 16th Kevin Magnussen +0.085, 17th Nicholas Latifi +0.176, 18th Jack Aitken +0.272, 19th Kimi Raikkonen +0.343, 20th Pietro Fittipaldi +0.806
Q2: 1st Max Verstappen 53.647………10th Pierre Gasly 53.941; 11th Esteban Ocon +0.054, 12th Alex Albon +0.085, 13th Sebastian Vettel +0.234, 14th Antonio Giovinazzi +0.436, 15th Lando Norris +0.752
Q3: 1st Valtteri Bottas 53.377, 2nd George Russell +0.026, 3rd Max Verstappen +0.056, 4th Charles Leclerc +0.236, 5th Sergio Perez +0.413, 6th Daniil Kvyat +0.529, 7th Daniel Ricciardo +0.580, 8th Carlos Sainz +0.633, 9th Pierre Gasly +0.777, 10th Lance Stroll +0.823
Mercedes led the way again as they have done so often this year and appeared to have the race under control even without the World Champion in action. They would surely have recorded their 14th win of 2020 if not for the chaotic pit lane shambles on lap 61? After Jack Aitken spun on the exit of the final turn and a safety car deployed, Mercedes made the fateful decision to pit both cars. I understand why they pitted. They had a safe gap to 3rd to get both cars in, out and retain position. However, when you double-stack cars it is a great risk and it backfired spectacularly. They fitted Russell with Bottas’s tyres and had to send Bottas back out on the set of Hard tyres he had already taken around for 16 laps. It massively compromised both drivers costing them team at least the win and a podium. So, what went wrong?
According to Toto Wolff, it wasn’t a human error but a system error as he told Sky F1, ‘Simply one of the tyre crews didn’t hear the call. We had a radio failure in the garage and when the car came in, then they didn’t know that we had to change the tyres, or the wrong tyres and this is why we exited with the wrong set of tyres’.
The last time a driver was sent out on a wrong or mixed set was Bottas himself while he was at Williams driving in the 2015 Belgian Grand Prix. That day, Williams fitted a different tyre compound on the front right and didn’t’ rectify it for 7 laps and the stewards gave Bottas a drive-through penalty. Mercedes rectified the situation with Russell the following lap. Post-race, Mercedes were fined €20,000. The difference in the penalties could be from what Martin Brundle said in Sky Sports commentary, they rectified it within three laps. This writer is of the view it would have been very harsh given everything to penalise him further under the circumstances of it being behind a Safety Car.
George Russell was the stand-in for Hamilton and filling in for the world champion would be a big challenge for anyone, including the man from Kings Lynn. As a Mercedes Academy driver, he is familiar with the team but had never driven the 2020 car so he needed to get used to it. Add in that he didn’t actually fit in the car and had wear size 10 boots (he’s size 11), what he produced in Sakhir was incredible! Russell topped both Friday practice sessions and looked to have the measure of Bottas going into Qualifying. While he qualified 2nd and just shy of pole position, he, unfortunately, lost his 100% Qualifying record. He made amends with a strong start off the grid and led from turn 1 for the first time in his F1 career. He managed the situation well and kept himself composed, building a 5s gap over Bottas before pitting for the first stops.
Then came the ‘colossial f*** up’. After Aitken spun on the final turn, losing his front wing prompted the Safety Car to be deployed, Mercedes pitted both cars, messed it and then pitted Russell again the following lap to correct the mistake. Russell was 5th behind Bottas and with the fresher tyres had a commanding charge to 2nd. It looked like we were set for an epic battle between Russell and Perez for the win but a slow puncture put paid to that. The Brit had to pit again and put in a strong effort climbing back to finish 9th for his first-ever points in F1. ‘today was absolutely gutting’ he said post-race and so it was. It could have been so much more for Russell but if anything, he has demonstrated what he can do in the Mercedes and have that chat with Toto about a race seat.
The end result was perhaps a bigger disappointment for Valtteri Bottas as he described the race as ‘a really bad day for us’. As defacto team leader in Hamilton’s absence, this was a chance for him to show he can lead the team and while he delivered in Qualifying to secure his 16th career pole position, his performance and result was disappointing. Beaten by Russell into turn 1, he didn’t seem to have many answers until after pitting for the Hard tyre then lady luck intervened against Bottas. The net result of the tyre mishap was Bottas ended up sitting with overheating brakes n to be given the same tyres back and struggling to the end being overtaken by Sainz, Ricciardo, Albon and Kvyat as he finished 8th.
So, with Mercedes taking themselves out of contention, Verstappen and Leclerc out on lap 1, there was an opportunity for a new race winner and even podiums on offer for some of the drivers in the midfield. There will be feelings of missed opportunities for some but jubilation for others and none more so than Racing Point.
The win went to Sergio Perez and after the year he’s had, he thoroughly deserved it! After Qualifying a strong 5th in a car quickest in the speed trap, he looked set for a good race until that incident at turn 4. Last after pitting on the opening lap, what followed was remarkable! The Mexican produced a stellar drive with excellent overtaking making his way into the top 10 by lap 21 and was running 3rd having effectively one-stopped after lap 1. Still, on older tyres he had it all to do and while luck played its part in the way Mercedes fell apart, he inherited the lead behind the Safety Car and controlled it brilliantly. Yes, there was an immense a lot of luck involved but he deserved his maiden F1 win!
Lance Stroll was also on the podium in 3rd, his second of the season but he was ‘a bit disappointed’ as he could easily have won. The Canadian was beaten in Qualifying but he did make Q3. Stroll was running 3rd before pitting on lap 42 but regrets how Ocon was able to get past on his out-lap and then locking up a few laps later effectively allowing his teammate through. There was a lockup as well as he was trying to get tyre temperature up at the Safety Car restart that compromised him slightly as he found himself defending 3rd rather than attacking Ocon for 2nd. Still, 3rd is a good result for Stroll but he will be thinking of what could’ve been.
For Racing Point, 1st and 3rd on the podium was a fantastic result and a great comeback after the double disappointment they had just a week earlier. Incredible more still was the admission from Otmar Szafenauer was that they didn’t even have enough parts on-site a few days before the race. As a team that used to be Jordan before Force India, the last time the Silverstone outfit won a race in 2003, they didn’t actually get to celebrate it on the day but also for a team that could have folded two years ago, it was nice to see.
However, there must be someone thinking have we made the right choice in dispensing with Perez’s services. Incredibly, he still does not have a drive for next year! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it will be criminal if he is not on the grid next year. F1 reporter Will Buxton tweeted a few hours after the race that something could be afoot? Perez was pessimistic in it post-race but could it be Red Bull?
Post-race Perez was pessimistic of his 2021 chances believing, ‘My picture is getting clearer. If I am not on the grid next year, I already have options to come back in ‘22. So I am at peace with myself. If I have to leave here, I am more than committed to doing so but then I am more determined than ever to be back for 2022…I can definitely take a year out, I can be here next year. I don’t know what is going to happen but I will certainly know in the coming weeks. If anything, I’m just at peace with myself for what’s coming in my future.”
It would be a huge shame to see Perez out of the grid. As he aid, at 30 he is right at his peak especially after securing his first win at a record 190th attempt, become the first Mexican winner since Pedro Rodriguez in 1970. While he feels he has options to come back in 2022, it may not be as easy for the Mexican to adapt, just look at how Esteban Ocon has struggled at times this year. With the 2022 rule changes, it may not hurt him as much as everyone will be in the same position but again, it would be a huge shame. It looks even more incredible when you compare Perez’s performance with that of the man he could replace at red Bull and the man who is replacing him at Racing Point.
Sakhir Grand Prix Race Result
1st Sergio Perez 1:31:15.114, 2nd Esteban Ocon +10.518, 3rd Lance Stroll +11.869, 4th Carlos Sainz +12.580, 5th Daniel Ricciardo +13.330, 6th Alex Albon +13.842, 7th Daniil Kvyat +14.534, 8th Valtteri Bottas +15.389, 9th George Russell +18.556, 10th Lando Norris +19.541, 11th Pierre Gasly +20.527, 12th Sebastian Vettel +22.611, 13th Antonio Giovinazzi +24.111, 14th Kimi Raikkonen +26.153, 15th Kevin Magnussen +32.370, 16th Jack Aitken +33.674, 17th Pietro Fittipaldi +36.858, Nicholas Latifi DNF, Max Verstappen DNF, Charles Leclerc DNF
Fastest Lap: George Russell 55.404
It was perhaps a bad time for Alex Albon to have a disappointing weekend in the Red Bull. There were no high profile incidents for the Anglo-Thai driver, he just genuinely lacked performance in a car that should’ve been higher than 6th on a day Mercedes fell apart. Albon struggled in Qualifying bowing out in Q2 in 12th while Perez was 5th. He complained of a lack of pace in the race citing ‘the configuration of downforce we had’ post-race. Albon was even overtaken on track by Perez; the man who could take his seat on track on the Mexican’s charge to victory. That really isn’t a good look. On a weekend, Christian Horner basically outlined if he lost the seat he would be out of F1, this was not the result or performance he needed to cement his spot.
As for the man replacing Perez at Racing Point, Sebastian Vettel penultimate race at Ferrari was so far off plan he felt his race was ‘irrelevant’. Like Albon, Vettel failed to get out of Q2 and qualified 13th while his teammate got on the second row. With Leclerc out early, Vettel became Ferraris best chances for points but I can’t remember much of his race other than having yet another slow pit stop. The four-time Champion climbed to 9th on the opening lap but didn’t have the pace to stay there and spent much of the race languishing in 12th which is where he eventually finished.
Esteban Ocon hasn’t had an easy year of it since returning to F1 but Sakhir may well be a turning point and a confidence boost before he partners Fernando Alonso next year. The Frenchamn showed decent pace in practice and was disappointed not to make Q3. However, Qualifying 11th and having a free tyre choice may well have benefited him on race day. For much of the race, t did look like he would finish behind Ricciardo so his finishing on the podium did have a slice of luck to it. He did well to pass Stroll for 9th but little did he know that pass would help define his 2nd place finish. He was elevated to that position through the Safety Car and various pitting issues elsewhere and after Russell’s late puncture he never looked like losing position.
It was a fantastic result for Ocon getting a podium at his 66th attempt. He came close while he was racing at Racing Point a couple of times and coming back after a year out, it is a well-deserved reward. While there was an element of luck, he still had to keep it on the road and take the chance presented to him and he did it. Post-race, you could tell what it meant to him. ‘I definitely cried and I’m proud to say it. That moment, crossing the line, I’ll remember it forever’. I wonder, did Cyril Abiteboul have a similar tattoo arrangement with Ocon as he did Daniel Ricciardo?
Daniel Ricciardo felt Perez should never have won that race given he was last at the end of the first lap. Sounds harsh given the way he drove but it hints at mistakes several teams made as he rued a missed opportunity. After Qualifying 6th and having a decent start, Ricciardo was up to 4th at the end of the opening lap and in podium contention battling Sainz. However, due to being on the Softs, he had to stop a little bit earlier and found himself undercut by Kvyat where he found himself a bit stuck. He managed to recover that position around the second stops but that stop came just as the VSC was ending, putting him down to 7th. The Australian managed to get past Bottas for 5th but on a day he could’ve won had the strategy been right it could be costly in terms of the standings.
Both McLaren drivers had difficult Sakhir weekends and Carlos Sainz described his result as ‘a very bitter 4th place’. The Spaniard had a good start having spared McLaren’s blushes from a difficult weekend in Qualifying 8th and was running 3rd at the end of the opening lap. Like Ricciardo, starting on the Soft meant he had a relatively shorter opening stint but had the performance not be stuck behind Kvyat and was back into 3rd when McLaren pitted him behind the VSC. However, the timing was way off and it ended as he pitted meaning he reemerged in 7th. Sainz managed to fight his way past Bottas with 10 laps remaining and was within a second of Stroll on the final lap but was unable to get the final podium spot.
Lando Norris didn’t quite hit the same highlights as his teammate but given he was always going to be starting around the back of the grid due to engine penalties, it was going to be difficult to get a big result. Having lap times deleted in Q2 for exceeding track limits as he qualified 15th didn’t make much difference as he started 19th. From there though, he had arguably the best opening lap of everybody as he impressively climbed to 10th. Other than that, he struggled with an unspecified issue that meant he struggled with pace and ‘just had to try and stay where I was’. He only just climbed back into the final points position having battled with Gasly and Russell in the final few laps. On paper, 19th to 10th is a good result but without gremlins, it could’ve been more.
Alpha Tauri scored points again in Bahrain but the tables were turned somewhat with Daniil Kvyat excelling. It does seem like the Russian is on his way out of F1 judging by some of his comments but he showed good pace throughout the weekend. Qualifying 6th was a fantastic effort and his race drive was error-free despite finishing a position lower in 7th. Making the undercut on Ricciardo in the first pit stop phase and keeping him behind it looked like he could finish 4th but his second pit stop was just before VSC which Kvyat felt wasn’t good timing. It dropped him down the order to finish 7th and while that was a disappointing outcome, it was a good drive.
Pierre Gasly has been consistent in 2020 and was the other surprise winner this year at Monza but Sakhir just wasn’t his weekend. Both Alpha Tauri’s had strong pace in Friday practice and got into Q3 but in the race, he struggled more for pace. Having qualified 9th, he gained a couple of positions on the opening lap and even though he was running 6th until the VSC he never seemed to be content with the car. He struggled ‘with the rear and had a lot of understeer’ and like his teammate, he was unfortunate with the Safety car timing. Ultimately, the Frenchman failed to score points losing out to Norris and Russell in the final handful of laps as he finished 11th.
Sakhir Grand Prix Points
Drivers: Sergio Perez 25, Esteban Ocon 18, Lance Stroll 15, Carlos Sainz 12, Daniel Ricciardo 10, Alex Albon 8, Daniil Kvyat 6, Valtteri Bottas 4, George Russell 3, Lando Norris 1
Constructors: Racing Point 40, Renault 28, McLaren 11, Red Bull 8, Mercedes 7, Alpha Tauri 6
Away from the midfield and Alfa Romeo had a relatively quiet weekend. Antonio Giovinazzi is finding some form in the inter-team battle, out-qualifying Kimi Raikkonen again and they’re now tied 8-8 as he got himself into Q2. The Italian followed that up with a consistent drive as he finished at the head of the lower midfield in 13th which he felt was ‘probably the maximum we could achieve on the night so to finish in front of our rivals and just behind a Ferrari is what we have to take home’. Raikkonen had the upper hand in [ractice bit Qualifying is letting him down. The oldest man on the field qualified 19th and only ahead of Fittipaldi. The Iceman made a decent start but was undone by spinning at turn 2 so to finish just behind his teammate and ahead of both the Haas and Williams cars, while disappointing was a decent recovery.
While it was quiet for Alfa Romeo, Haas were making the headlines in between the Bahrain races by eventually announcing their 2021 line up. Russian Nikita Mazepin was announced first before the big one…the name Schumacher is back in F1! It doesn’t come as much of a surprise but Mick Schumacher is following in his father’s footsteps. The German has had a fantastic season in F2 and clinched the title; following in the steps of Charles Leclerc and George Russell to go into F1 having won the F2 title. I’m looking forward to seeing him in F1 but I am not expecting him to hit the ground running.
Mazepin however, boy am I not looking forward to him being in F1. His defensive driving came under scrutiny in the final F2 race and to be honest, I found it downright dangerous and not impressed. Add that to his impressive rap sheet of fights with Callum Illot and his now-deleted social media post that prompted an apology from Haas. I really don’t think he should be in F1 and I would add myself to the #WeSayNoToMazepin brigade.
Both Haas and Williams had one of their reserve drivers making their debuts. Pietro Fittipaldi for Haas was in place of Romain Grosjean while jack Aitken replacing the Mercedes bound Russell. Aitken was also involved in F2 action so it was an incredibly busy weekend for the Brit but was a pleasant surprise they didn’t field Roy Nissany who has had FP1 outings this year.
It would have been remarkable expecting either of the two to better their two more experienced teammates but of the two, I think Aitken may have just done the better job in being closer to their drivers. Aitken was within a tenth of his teammate in the Williams while Fittipaldi was more than 7 tenths adrift of his teammate in the Haas and at the back of the grid. That is where Fittipaldi spent most of the race and finished but it’s really hard to be harsh on them given the short notice they had of jumping into the car. Aitken made his big mistake on the final turn which prompted the Safety Car that turned the race on its head while Fittipaldi was mistake-free. Both drivers can be satisfied with their efforts under the circumstances.
Outgoing driver Kevin Magnussen announced he’ll be racing in the IMSA Sportscar Championship with Ganassi Racing DPi next year. In Sakhir, Magnussen out-qualified and finished the race ahead of his teammate bit given his teammate was the debutant Fittipaldi, any other result would have been a surprise given he’d had a lot more time with the car. On race day, he was limited by his car as he stated post-race, ‘we were just slow today’. He did the best he could and that’s all anyone could ask of him but finishing 15th, he probably can’t wait for his new challenge in 2021.
Romain Grosjean will not be returning to the car for Abu Dhabi after his horrific incident. So, will Fittipaldi have the car again or will they give one of their 2021 drivers an early debut? It isn’t a surprise that Grosjean will not be getting back into the car but it is a bittersweet way for Grosjean to end his for year association with Haas and an f1 career spanning 179 race starts and 10 podium finishes. That said, it was great seeing the footage of him returning to the paddock to see his team and friends as well as thanking the medical crew Dr Ian Roberts and Andy van der Merwe who helped him get out of his fiery incident. Get well soon Romain!
Returning to Williams and Nicholas Latifi had his first opportunity as de facto team leader with Russell driving the Mercedes. The Canadian out-qualified his teammate as you would expect but the margin of less than a tenth was a bit disappointing. Latifi had a decent race drive though and was ahead of the Alfa Romeo of Giovnazzi before being forced to pull over on lap 52 with an oil leak brought his race to a premature end.
Sakhir Grand Prix Ratings
Drivers: Sergio Perez 10, Esteban Ocon 9, Lance Stroll 8, Carlos Sainz 9, Daniel Ricciardo 8, Alex Albon 6, Daniil Kvyat 8.5, Valtteri Bottas 6, George Russell 10, Lando Norris 6.5, Piere Gasly 6, Sebastian Vettel 5.5, Antonio Giovinazzi 7.5, Kimi Raikkonen 6, Kevin Magnussen 6.5, Jack Aitken 6.5, Piettro Fittipaldi 6, Nicholas Latifi 6.5, Max Verstappen 8, Charles Leclerc 6.
Constructors: Racing Point 9.5, Renault 8, McLaren 7.5, Red Bull 7, Mercedes 7, Alpha Tauri 7.5, Ferrari 6, Alfa Romeo 6.5, Haas 6.5, Williams 6.5
After the Sakhir Grand Prix, the Drivers Championship in regards to the top three hasn’t changed much with Valtteri Bottas (205pts) now having a 16 point lead over Max Verstappen (189pts) in the battle for 2nd. Sergio Perez opened up a sizeable lead over Daniel Ricciardo in the battle for fourth thanks to his surprise win while his teammate’s podium also got Lance Stroll into the top 10. Charles Leclerc (98pts) remains 6th after failing to finish bit will have a close battle with Carlos Sainz (97pts) and Alex Albon (93pts) to keep 6th spot. Londo Norris is a little further back on 87 points. Pierre Gasly (71pts) fell out of the top 10 due to his failure to score points while Daniil Kvyat (32pts) has closed to within a point of Sebastian Vettel (33pts) for 13th and George Russell with his first points in F1 is now about the Haas pair of Grosjean and Magnussen.
In the Constructors, It’s unchanged in the top two between Mercedes and Red Bull but it is the battle for 3rd that will have all eyes in the final race. Racing Point’s 40 point haul has taken them from 17 points behind McLaren (184pts) to a 10 point advantage going into the final race while Renault (172pts) are even further back in 5th. Ferrari and Alpha Tauri look set to finish 6th and 7th respectively while the bottom three: Alfa Romeo, Haas and Williams remain unchanged.
Next up, it’s the final race of the season! Incredibly, F1 has got through a 17 race season with a schedule they struggled to put together due to the coronavirus pandemic. 17 is more races than some years have even seen so it is a testament to F1, the FIA, the circuit organisers and those who held events at relatively short notice as well as the teams and drivers for making it all possible. It’s the now annual finale on Yas Island; the scene of title glory in the past for Sebastian Vettel and Nico Rosberg. Lewis Hamilton will be back after his bout of Covid while a handful of drivers will be having their final race with their current teams and it could shockingly be Sergio Perez’s final F1 race! It’s the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix!