Sakhir GP: A Tale of Heartbreak and Redemption

The 2020 Sakhir GP took place on the Bahrain International Circuit’s outer track, and while it was a tale of utter Heartbreak for one, it was redemption for another. George Russell, who jumped from possibly the worst car on the grid to the car which is deemed by many as the Best F1 car ever, barely finished inside points despite giving his best due to tire troubles.

Sakhir GP - Formula 1 - George Russell
Sakhir GP – Formula 1 – George Russell

While Sergio Perez, who was 18th at the end of the first lap following a crash, won for the first time in his 190 race F1 career making it an extremely emotional race.

Keeping the pandemic situation in mind, F1 decided to have a doubleheader at the Bahrain International circuit. After analyzing the different layouts of the circuit, all of which hold FIA Grade 1 License, the 11-turn outer circuit was selected for the second race. It is an ultra-quick 3.543 km layout generating sub-60 s track times and has never been used for an international race.

Sakhir GP - Formula 1 - Circuit
Sakhir GP – Formula 1 – Circuit

With such a short track, the race was an 87 lap race to ensure the minimum race distance of 305 km, the most laps this year.

With FP1, came the moment that all the F1 fans were hyped to see, George Russell in the alien tech W11. And live up to the hype he did. After a couple of practice laps, he slammed the car to the top of the timesheets. Amazingly he replicated this feat in FP2 but wasn’t able to do the same in FP3 as Max Verstappen of Red Bull drove the fastest.

Sakhir GP - Formula 1 - FP1
Sakhir GP – Formula 1 – FP1
Sakhir GP - Formula 1 - FP2
Sakhir GP – Formula 1 – FP2
Sakhir GP - Formula 1 - FP3
Sakhir GP – Formula 1 – FP3

In qualifying, after a bit of hiccup here and there in Q1 and Q2, Russell showed incredible pace in Q3, missing out on pole by a mere 0.06 s to his teammate Valteri Bottas. So as usual, it was a front-row lockout for Mercedes, with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc 3rd and 4th respectively.

Sakhir GP - Formula 1 - Qualifiers
Sakhir GP – Formula 1 – Qualifiers

George showed his incredible pace in race too. He launched off the start line like a missile and flew past his Mercedes teammate Bottas. By turn 3 he had created an amazing lead, but as the grid reached turn 4, a lockup from Leclerc made Perez crash into him. Verstappen avoided contact, but carried too much speed in the gravel trap, sliding into the barriers, thus giving us the first 2 DNF of the race along with Leclerc.

Sakhir GP - Formula 1 - Sprint Race
Sakhir GP – Formula 1 – Sprint Race

By this time, Lando Norris had gained an incredible 9 places. A safety car was immediately deployed to clear the car. Perez pitted for fresh rubber and the race resumed at lap 7 and Leclerc was issued a 3 placed Grid penalty for the Abu Dhabi GP after the race finished.

George Russell went ahead once again as the Safety car ended, while his teammate Bottas was facing pressure from Carlos Sainz. A failed to overtake attempt of Carlos Sainz over Bottas around the outside of turn 1 allowed Russell to escape the DRS range of Bottas.

Sakhir GP - Formula 1 - Sprint Race
Sakhir GP – Formula 1 – Sprint Race

Perez who had come out of the pits 18th, battled his way incredibly to top 10. He jumped from P18 to P11 by Lap 15 and was up to points by Lap 20. He passed Albon a lap later at turn 5 to P9.

Sakhir GP - Formula 1 - Sprint Race
Sakhir GP – Formula 1 – Sprint Race

Mclaren pitted Sainz on Lap 28 who emerged out of the pitlane in 7th, while Kyvat managed to undercut Ricciardo and get ahead of the Australian.

The Laps ticked quickly as the outer track was short, and by halfway point i.e. Lap 44, the order was Russell with a lead of 3s on Bottas as they were yet to stop, Perez third after his stop on Lap 1, Albon 4th, yet to pit, Sainz 5th, Kyvat 6th, Ricciardo 7th, Gasly 8th, Ocon 9th and Stroll 10th.

Russell’s first pit came at Lap 45, coming back on the track P2 after taking on the hard tyres. After a brief loss of power, he showed amazing pace again and looked like getting a win. Bottas came in for hards too but emerged 8 seconds down his teammate.

Williams of Nicholas Latifi pulled to the side of the race and was out of the race. This resulted in a VSC under which Ricciardo and Sainz pitted. But as luck would have it, the timing was quite wrong. The race went green as soon as they entered their boxes and came out of pits P8 and P7 respectively.

Sakhir GP - Formula 1 - Sprint Race - Latifi Powerunit Failure
Sakhir GP – Formula 1 – Sprint Race – Latifi Powerunit Failure

By this time Perez had reached P3. A second Safety Car was on the plates as Jack Aitken wiped out his front wing at the final corner and ducked into the pits.      

Seeing the advantage that they had, Mercedes called both their cars for a double stack, and it saw their entire race being turned into a nightmare from a daydream. After Russell was sent out, there was confusion during Bottas’s pit as he changed to mediums and then back on the hards, taking the pit time to nearly half a lap equivalent to 27 seconds.

Sakhir GP - Formula 1 - Sprint Race - George Russell leaving Pits
Sakhir GP – Formula 1 – Sprint Race – George Russell leaving Pits

And it looked like Bottas race was ruined while Russell had a clear path for victory. But it turned out that Mercedes had fitted Bottas’s mediums on Russell by mistake, which saw him pit again. He rejoined the race at 5th position with all his advantage neutralized. Perez, Ocon and Stroll were now in the podium places.   

Sakhir GP - Formula 1 - Sprint Race
Sakhir GP – Formula 1 – Sprint Race

As the race restarted on Lap 69, Perez led the pack away and created a nice gap from Ocon behind him. But all the eyes were on Russell, who despite having lost his advantage was displaying some amazing racing as he was on fresher rubber.

He went beautifully past his teammate Bottas around the outside of turn 6 and charged through Ocon and Stroll to climb to P2. He set after Perez and it looked like he had total control of the race, and even might be able to win it, but then got a puncture.

With a scream of anguish, he pitted again for the fourth time and came out P15. As both Mercedes were nowhere near, Perez raced on to a smooth maiden victory, of the race which could be his penultimate race in F1, at least for now.

Sakhir GP – Formula 1 – Sprint Race

The pit wall at Racing Point erupted with emotions, so did Perez in the cockpit of his RP 20. Even Esteban Ocon couldn’t hold back his tears as he got his first podium in F1 career. With Stroll taking P3, it was a double podium for Racing point, which saw them leaping back to P3 in constructors’ championship.

Sakhir GP - Formula 1 - Sprint Race
Sakhir GP – Formula 1 – Sprint Race

Meanwhile, Russell at the back didn’t lose his focus and after showing first-class racing, achieved P9, his first points finish in F1. As obvious, he was gutted. Without any fault of his own, he went from a win to barely get into points.

Sakhir GP - Formula 1 - Sprint Race Results
Sakhir GP – Formula 1 – Sprint Race Results

But Russell’s misfortune meant that after his long 190 race F1 career, Sergio took his maiden victory at the Sakhir GP, and there wasn’t a soul in the paddock who was happy for him.

Sakhir GP - Formula 1 - Podium - From L to R - Esteban Ocon, Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll
Sakhir GP – Formula 1 – Podium – From L to R – Esteban Ocon, Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll

But this race showed us one more thing, the mettle of George Russell, an incredible racer who truly deserves the best car on the grid. The whole F1 community had praises for him.

Sakhir GP - Formula 1 - George Russell and Valteri Bottas
Sakhir GP – Formula 1 – George Russell and Valteri Bottas

His recovery drives were simply flawless. But his F1 career has just started, and his incredible pace in the Sakhir GP has surely been taken note of by the teams. He surely has a ton of opportunities ahead and will see great success. And him winning the Driver of The Day was just proof of this.

Sakhir GP - Formula 1 - George Russell as the Driver of the Day
Sakhir GP – Formula 1 – George Russell as the Driver of the Day

After the conclusion of the Sakhir GP at Bahrain, Roman Grosjean is already on his way home, which means he won’t be racing for the season-ender Abu Dhabi GP. Lewis Hamilton is yet to recover from Covid-19 and it is possible that he may miss the season-ender. It is yet to see how things unfold.

Head to our Motorsports section to read news and race reports.

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Written by – Tanay Lavingia

Compiled by – Tirth Pandya

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