Both the Drivers and the Constructors Championships have been decided in the favour of Lewis Hamilton [Pictured above; feature image from fEssentiallySports] and Mercedes for an unprecedented 7th time as they arrived in Bahrain for the start of the final three-race leg to bring the 2020 season to a close. So, you may have been forgiven for thinking there was nothing else to fight for this season. Wrong. For both drivers and teams, there are still Championship positions to fight for, race seats for 2021 to try and win as well as just pride for those likely to be leaving the sport.
However, the enduring image of the 2020 Bahrain Grand Prix will be the image of Romain Grosjean and his horrific opening lap incident [something I didn’t think appropriate for the featured image above].
Coming out of turn 3, Grosjean had the slightly slower cars in front of him and swerved to the right to try and get around them. Unfortunately, I don’t think the Alpha Tauri of Daniil Kvyat was in his mirror sight. F1 mirrors are small so I do wonder if Kvyat was in a blindspot (This is best explained by Karun Chandock’s analysis for Sky F1 here). The contact sent him into the barrier, splitting the car in two and engulfed in flames.
I can’t remember seeing an F1 car go up in flames like that since the days of refuelling in the pitlane but as alluded to by Martin Brundle in Sky Commentary, there hasn’t been a crash like that since Gerhard Berger at Imola in 1989. It’s incredible he was able to get out of it so quickly (18-20s) and miraculously with no fractures and only minor burns to his hands.
He is incredibly lucky! On the first count, having the halo. As his car went through the barrier, the halo remained intact meaning the barrier never touched Grosjean. The halo certainly proved its worth there. In the dark early days of F1, the barriers often caused quite gruesome deaths and without the Halo, I have no doubt the way the car went through the Grosjean would have sustained at the very least, more severe injuries. I have to admit, when they were considering the halo I wasn’t sure it would protect in certain situations (most notably Felipe Massa’s 2009 incident) but it has proven its worth. Grosjean was a driver critical of it but in a bedside video, he stated his thanks for it.
F1 Managing Director Ross Brawn was also full of praise for the halo, ‘The barrier splitting was a classic problem many years ago and normally it resulted in a fatality. There is absolutely no doubt the Halo was the factor that saved the day – and saved Romain. All the team behind it just need crediting for forcing it through. If you recall, there was quite a lot of controversy at the time about introducing it and I don’t think anyone now, especially after today, can doubt the validity and value of it. Hats off to everyone involved because it was a life-saver today’.
On the second count, the fact that the severity of the contact and the G force involved did not render him unconscious. Otherwise, he would not have been able to get himself out so quickly. It would then have been a wait for the fire to be out before being able to get him out. They wear four layers of fireproof clothing but in that scenario, I can’t imagine much of a positive outcome. He was also fortunate in that it happened just at the start and the first people on the scene were Dr Ian Roberts and Alan van der Merwe who drive the medical car that follows the pack around the first lap. They were first on the scene and key to getting him out. Those two and the marshals around there were the real heroes for getting him out.
I cannot imagine what that would have been like for the drivers. As a fan watching at home, it was shocking enough and those feelings of thinking what have I just watched? But for the drivers and everyone else in the paddock, it’s a friend, a colleague they’ve seen it happen to and it could easily have been any one of them. They had to endure the silence on the radio until knowing if he was ok and then they had to get back in the cars after an 80-minute break and do it all again. I can’t imagine what would have been going through their minds going back to the grid and the drivers all deserve credit for the race they produced.
These sort of incidents were more common in the dark, early days of F1 in the 1960s and 70s (I recommend watching F1 The Killer Years) when drivers would often die. Some of them quite horrifically but the remains of the second half of the car looked scarily like something from those. It is testament to the advancements F1 have made during the years that Grosjean survived it but even a few years ago he would not have survived. As for how the car split in two like that and the fire, there will be investigation….
After a tense 80 minute break as the stewards replaced the barrier, it was down to a second race start. After barely half a lap, the Safety Car was out again. This time, it was Lance Stroll who had made contact with Kvyat at turn 9 and was flipped upside down. On the incident, Stroll said, ‘I was going through Turn 8 and was mid-corner when I was hit by Daniil who came out of nowhere and connected with me. The crash looked worse than it was: I’m okay’. It took until lap 9 for us to get an actual full racing lap completed but the race itself was not the most entertaining and most of the intrigue was on the midfield battle. After nearly three hours, it ended behind the Safety Car but the winner was never in doubt….
2020 Bahrain Grand Prix Qualifying
Q1: 1st Lewis Hamilton 1:28.343……………15th Lando Norris 1:29.464; 16th Antonio Giovinazzi +0.027, 17th Kimi Raikkonen +0.346, 18th Kevin Magnussen +0.647, 19th Romain Grosjean +0.674, 20th Nicholas Latifi +0.718
Q2: 1st Lewis Hamilton 1:27.586………10th Pierre Gasly 1:29.008; 11th Sebastian Vettel +0.141, 12th Charles Leclerc +0.157, 13th Lance Stroll +0.549, 14th George Russell +2.210, 15th Carlos Sainz (no time set).
Q3: 1st Lewis Hamilton 1:27.264, 2nd Valtteri Bottas +0.289, 3rd Max Verstappen +0.414, 4th Alex Albon +1.010, 5th Sergio Perez +1.058, 6th Daniel Ricciardo +1.153, 7th Esteban Ocon +1.155, 8th Pierre Gasly +1.184, 9th Lando Norris +1.278, 10th Daniil Kvyat +1.354
With his seventh Championship secured, the pressure was off Lewis Hamilton and you could tell he ‘had that feeling of release’. Hamilton topped both Friday practice sessions and all three parts of Qualifying as he produced a stellar new lap record to take his 98th career pole position. From lights out, we’ve become used to what happens as the world champion produced another typically commanding performance, getting good launches from both starts and two Safety Car restarts. He led all bar one lap as his 94th win didn’t seem in doubt as he ‘just had enough to be able to respond to Max’s when it mattered’. That’s his 11th win of the season and the record-equalling 13 is in sight but this is the best he’s driven shown by matching his career-best run of five successive wins.
On track, Valtteri Bottas is probably wishing 2020 to end so he can reset after another disappointing result in Bahrain. The Finn didn’t have the pace as Hamilton and only just managed to qualify 2nd to make it a 75th front row lockout for Mercedes in F1. In the race, he went backwards with a poor launch off the grid dropping him to 6th at the red flag and he was fortunate to start the second start from 4th. However, it went worse as he picked up a puncture on that opening lap and slowly fought his way through the field with ‘a bigger front wing than most the others’. That extra downforce doesn’t help for straight-line speed and he also picked up a further puncture. Thankfully, the safety car was already out and he could nurse it home to finish 8th.
Max Verstappen in the Red Bull was in a class of his own as he was Hamilton’s nearest challenger. The flying Dutchman was the only other driver to top a session and was thankful to qualify 3rd ‘on the clean side of the grid’. He used that to great effect passing Bottas before turn 1 but was on the dirty side the for the second start and had to defend from Perez in the first few turns. Verstappen threatened Hamilton with some quick lap times as he extracted everything from the car but perhaps took too much out of the tyres as he couldn’t maintain it. ‘I tried everything I could to stay with Lewis and there wasn’t much left to give but unfortunately we were just a bit too slow’. There’s not much more he could have done.
Alex Albon was again nowhere near Vetstappen’s pace and looked to be on the back foot after crashing out of FP2. While the gap to Verstappen in Qualifying was significant, he was still up there in 4th. Starting 4th, he didn’t have the cleanest of starts but past Bottas and again after the Finn was deemed ahead for the second start. From there, it was a decent drive with no mistakes but nothing really standing out to say he should be in that seat next year. That said, making no mistakes and being ahead of the midfield battle is not something he’s done consistently enough this year with Perez’s late retirement elevating him to his second F1 podium. ‘Of course there’s a bit of luck involved today…but we were there to capitalise on anything happening ahead and that’s exactly what we did so I’m really happy’. He’s absolutely right.
Red Bull hadn’t finished on the podium in Bahrain since 2013, they took their first double podium of 2020 and also their first since the 2017 Japanese Grand Prix. Will it be enough for Albon to be retained for 2021? It was an excellent response given where he was after FP2 but I’m not too sure how this will play out at Red Bull.
Sergio Perez is considered to be his rival for the seat. The Mexican is in the form of his F1 career and produced a very strong performance in Bahrain. Finding a couple of tenths at the end of Q3 propelled him to 5th on the grid and in the race, he didn’t put a foot wrong. Perez got a strong start passing Albon and Bottas for 3rd and on the second start challenged Verstappen for 2nd. While he didn’t pass Verstappen, he did a fine job running in 3rd rather comfortably ahead of the other Red Bull. He had never secured successive podium finishes and was only three laps from it when an MGU-K failure forced him to pull to one side.
Just how costly could that be? Daniil Kvyat basically confirmed he does not expect to be in F1 next year so red Bull’s options are either take on Perez and send Anon to Alpha Tauri, keep Albon and promote Yuki Tsunoda. That decision won’t be made until after Abu Dhabi but the performance while ended in tears for Perez perhaps may have strengthened his cause. The fact Albon still got the podium may swing it. It isn’t a decision I’d want to make. That said, while I understand why Racing Point or rather Aston Martin for next year went for Vettel to bring in championship-winning experience, it will be criminal if someone of the calibre and form of Sergio Perez is not in F1. The sport will be poorer for it.
For Racing Point, it was disastrous in terms of the Constructors Championship. Had Perez finished 3rd, the McLaren would’ve finished 5th and 6th. Racing Point had their potential advantage went from a slightly narrowed 2 point lead. Instead, with Stroll not finishing either, they are now 17 points adrift. That wasn’t lost on Otmas Szafenaur, ‘It makes the fight for third in the championship more difficult, but there are still two races to go, plenty of points available, and we know we have a competitive car. We will give everything we have to recover the lost points today and reclaim third in the championship.’ It hadn’t been a great weekend for Stroll even before his short-lived race. A miscommunication meant he did his Q2 effort on used Mediums and failed to get into Q3 and had lost ground on the start before coming to blows with Kvyat.
2020 Bahrain Grand Prix Race Result
1st Lewis Hamilton 2:59:47.515, 2nd Max Verstappen +1.254, 3rd Alex Albon +8.005, 4th Lando Norris +11.337, 5th Carlos Sainz +11.787, 6th Pierre Gasly +11.942, 7th Daniel Ricciardo +19.368, 8th Valtteri Bottas +19.680, 9th Esteban Ocon +22.803, 10th Charles Leclerc +1 Lap, 11th Daniil Kvyat +1 Lap, 12th George Russell +1 Lap, 13th Sebastian Vettel +1 Lap, 14th Nicholas Latifi +1 Lap, 15th Kimi Raikkonen +1 Lap, 16th Antonio Giovinazzi +1 Lap, 17th Kevin Magnussen +1 Lap, Sergio Perez DNF, Lance Stroll DNF, Romain Grosjean DNF
Fastest Lap: Max Verstappen 1:32.014
‘I was fully on the inside of him and even if I think saw me he chose to turn in like I wasn’t there. I put my whole car on the inside of the kerb and there wasn’t much more I could have done.’ It’s safe to say Daniil Kvyat didn’t agree with the steward’s decision. Personally, I thought it a racing incident but the steward didn’t, placing blame with Kvyat and handing him a 10s time penalty. It topped off a chaotic start to the race being involved in both the Grosjean and Stroll incidents. The penalty hurt his race and I think he did fairly well to come back and finish 11th but bittersweet on a weekend he had the performance for points.
Pierre Gasly carried the Alpha Tauri charge and as so often has been the case in 2020, he put in a consistently brilliant performance. The only disappointment in the Frenchman’s performance was the two race starts but he was in the top 10 throughout the Grand Prix weekend and qualified 8th. After losing positions both times, he recovered well with an excellent drive in tyre management as he made a one-stop strategy work. He had good pace and got his Alpha Tauri to 5th before pitting and taking the Hard tyres for 32 laps. It was ‘a risky strategy – it was a gamble – but it paid off in the end’. In the closing stages, he began to struggle for grip and lost positions to the McLaren’s but the late Safety Car perhaps prevented him losing more as he finished a very strong 6th.
It was an excellent result for McLaren in Bahrain and Lando Norris in particular. He’s had some difficult races in recent weeks so it was great to see the Brit excel. He saved his teams blushes by getting into Q3 though 9th was a slight disappointment after losing a tenth on his final run. From 9th on the grid, he had two great starts climbing to 7th and then 5th although the red flag was fortunate for him in that it allowed Mclaren to replace his front wing damage with no time loss. After passing Bottas for 5th, he never looked like finishing lower as he controlled his pace well with a ‘quite straightforward’ drive with a ‘good strategy and we did what we had to do’ as Perez’s DNF gave him a 4th place finish.
After failing to set a time in Q2 due to a brake issue that ‘locked up the rear axle’, Carlos Sainz would’ve taken 5th if offered at the grid. That was disappointing as he’d shown strong pace but they turned the free tyre choice and less Qualifying running to their advantage by taking a fresh set of Soft tyres for both starts, gaining a couple of positions on each and impressively taking the second set 20 laps into the race. The Spaniard’s racecraft was on top form too with an excellent overtaking move on his future teammate Leclerc and on Ricciardo after the latter had pulled off an undercut. He was also the last to benefit from Gasly’s tyre wear before the late safety car as he finished 5th.
The race was a great outcome for McLaren. Their well-executed race returned 22 points which meant they leap frogged Racing Point into 3rd in the Constructors standings with a 17 point lead. However, it is clear for Andreas Seidl where they need to improve if they are to keep that position, ‘Our target for the final two races must be to qualify higher up the grid’.
Perez’s misfortune meant Daniel Ricciardo returned to 4th in the Drivers standings but only just. Renault would have been hoping for a better haul of points after they qualified 6th and 7th but finished down on where they started. Ricciardo edged out the Qualifying battle to start 6th despite only one Q3 run. The race ‘certainly wasn’t what we wanted’ though. He couldn’t challenge Perez as he fell from 6th to 9th on the second start bt recovered with an ok first stint. After coming out behind his teammate and team orders helped him the first time, they battle it out and while Ricciardo seemed the quicker he was unable to push on any further so he finished 7th. It’s still points.
Esteban Ocon showed glimpses of the driver we saw before his year out. He was a lot closer to Ricciardo in terms of raw pace as only 0.002s separated them in Q3. Ocon qualified 7th. At the second race start, he passed his teammate and demonstrated some excellent defensive driving against Leclerc. In those early stages, he looked to be the quicker Renault but after the pit stops, he wasn’t and followed team orders to allow Ricciardo through. After undercutting him through the pit stops, the second time Ricciardo came through with no such orders. He’s finding his confidence in the car but despite an excellent start, he was still beaten in his teammate as he finished two places down.
2020 Bahrain Grand Prix Points
Drivers: Lewis Hamilton 25, Max Verstappen 19, Alex Albon 15, Lando Norris 12, Carlos Sainz 10, Pierre Gasly 8, Daniel Ricciardo 6, Valtteri Bottas 4, Esteban Ocon 2, Charles Leclerc 1
Constructors: Red Bull 34, Mercedes 29, McLaren 22, Alpha Tauri 8, Renault 8, Ferrari 1
Last year, Charles Leclerc and Ferrari were denied a win due to reliability. This year, reliability woes from elsewhere salvaged them a single point on a weekend Ferrari struggled. Both fell out of Qualifying in Q2 but Leclerc recovered from his qualifying defeat to Vettel by charging down the inside of turn 1 on the second start as he charged from 12th to 8th. The Monegasque was briefly 6th before pitting on lap 23 but didn’t have the pace to defend against the likes of Sainz, Ricciardo, Bottas and Ocon so was fortunate that Perez’s retirement (the only retirement in front) elevated him into the top 10 and the final point on offer which Leclerc felt was ‘the best we could achieve today’.
After his podium in Turkey, Sebastian Vettel looked fairly stronger in Bahrain and out-qualified Leclerc for the second successive round despite only getting one timed run in Q2 as he qualified 11th. While frustrating, that meant he was in a good position as the first driver with a free tyre choice. However, the car didn’t seem the same in the race as ‘the first stint was very bad, I didn’t have the pace and I lost quite a lot of ground’. Vettel also wasn’t impressed with his teammates lunge at the second start even hinting on team radio he should’ve just stayed where he was and let them both crash like they did in Austria. However, that horrid opening stint dropped him near the back of the field and the most he could recover to was 13th in another Grand Prix befitting his difficult 2020.
Mr Saturday George Russell was at it again as he impressively got his Williams into Q2 and ahead of his teammate for the 36th successive time. Impressively 0.9s quicker than his teammate he had I all to fo after an awful start from 14th dropped him to the back. The Brit recovered at the second start and had an impressive race drive from there overtaking Giovinazzi, Magnussen and battling hard with Kvyat while having enough to finish ahead of Vettel. Who would’ve expected that at the start of the year? Russell finished 12th, ‘it’s not a point but it is the maximum we could do today’. Points will surely come for Russell but it was a solid race drive he could be proud of.
Nicholas Latifi had the benefit of having the car for the whole weekend as Rusell gave way to Roy Nissany in FP1 so he will therefore be hugely disappointed how he was outclassed by his teammate in Qualifying; almost a full second adrift. The Canadian has been better in race trim this year and that showed against in Bahrain. He got ahead of his teammate at the first start but fell behind at the second but he still finished ahead of both Alfa Romeo’s and Magnussen to finish 14th in a performance indicating that Williams are improving.
The Bahrain Grand Prix wasn’t the one Alfa Romeo was expecting. Kimi Raikkonen had a torrid time being out-qualified by his teammate but from 17th was still optimistic. However, it was ‘compromised early on as I got damage in both starts’. Despite the damage, he did put up a decent defence against the Mercedes of Bottas but points were never likely. He did finish ahead of his teammate though. That was mostly down to an odd decision from Alfa Romeo to pit Antonio Giovinazzi behind the late Safety Car. The Italian said, ‘our choices for te race didn’t pay off’. He had done well to out-qualify Raikkonen even f it was only for 16th and had an excellent start only to lose those gains at the second. He did look the quicker of the Alfa’s for much of the weekend so that was a slightly disappointing outcome for the Italian.
All that can really be said about Kevin Magnussen’s Grand Prix is that they took to the circuit after the horrific incident involving his teammate and for his team on the pit wall to put the race together. The Danish driver didn’t have a great time of it mostly due to the performance levels of his car but also because of damage at the restart compromised him further. He spent much of the race towards the back of the field finishing last of the classified finishers but on a day like that, he deserves all praise for getting to the end.
2020 Bahrain Grand Prix Ratings
Drivers: Lewis Hamilton 9.5, Max Verstappen 9, Alex Albon 7.5, Lando Norris 9, Carlos Sainz 9, Pierre Gasly 8.5, Daniel Ricciardo 7.5, Valtteri Bottas 6, Esteban Ocon 6.5, Charles Leclerc 6.5, Daniil Kvyat 6, George Russell 7.5, Sebastian Vettel 5.5, Nicholas Latifi 7, Kimi Raikkonen 6, Antonio Giovinazzi 6.5, Kevin Magnussen 6, Sergio Perez 9.5, Lance Stroll 5.5, Romain Grosjean 10
Constructors: Red Bull 8, Mercedes 8.5, McLaren 9, Alpha Tauri 8, Renault 7, Ferrari 6, Williams 7, Alfa Romeo 5.5, Haas 6.5, Racing Point 6.5
After the first Bahrain race, the Driver’s Championship sees Lewis Hamilton extend his lead to 131 points over teammate Valtteri Bottas (201pts) who will be nervously looking over his shoulder to Max Verstappen (189pts) in third and only 12 points behind. The battle for 4th in the standings is intense with only four points now separating 4th and 6th. Daniel Ricciardo is two points ahead of Perez following the Mexican’s late retirement with Charles Leclerc a further two adrift. The McLaren drivers switch around in the standings with Lando Norris now leading his teammate bu a solitary point in 7th. Alex Albon opened a bit more of a gap to Piere Gasly for 9th and the bottom 10 of the standings remain unchanged bar Esteban Ocon (42pts) collecting two further points in 12th.
The Constructors Championship top two are set with Mercedes and red Bul 1st and 2nd respectively but it is the battle for 3rd that saw more twists. Sergio Perez’s late retirement means Racing Point lose 3rd spot to McLaren (171pts) and are now 17 adrift. That could prove costly while Renault’s performance means they are a further 10 points adrift in 5th. They could still be caught by Ferrari (131pts) but doubtful. Alpha Tauri are close to surpassing 100 points in 7th and the bottom three of the Constructors remains unchanged.
Next, it is Bahrain round two for the penultimate round of 2020! This time they will be racing around the outer layout of the Bahrain International Circuit in what should be a quick lap; it is expected to see the first sub-one-minute lap since Niki Lauda at the 1974 French Grand Prix at Dijon. There are also a handful of driver changes with Pietro Fittipaldi; grandson of two time champion Emmerson driving for Haas in place of Grosjean and Lewis Hamilton is missing a race for the first time since 2007. The World Champion is ruled out after a positive covid test and has seen George Russell elevated to Mercedes to cover him. Reserve drivers Stoffel Vandoorne and Esteban Guttierez missing out and there will also be an F1 debut for Jack Aitken who replaces Russell at Williams.
With Hamilton in the form he is in out of action, the next race is probably the most open race we’ve had in F1 for some time. It is named after the Sakhir region the Bahrain International Circuit is located in. It’s the quick oval for the Sakhir Grand Prix!