We returned again to Bahrain for the penultimate round of the F1 season. This time the track layout was different, giving us sub-1 minute laps and plenty of excitement.
There were a few driver changes this weekend to mix up the grid. Pietro Fittipaldi replaced the injured Romain Grosjean. Grosjean does continue to recover well from his burns but will not race in Abu Dhabi next weekend either. Lewis Hamilton tested positive for COVID-19 so was replaced with Mercedes young driver and current Williams driver, George Russell. His Williams’ seat was therefore loaned to F2 driver, Jack Aitken.
Russell topped FP1 and FP2 timesheets and qualified 2nd, only 0.026 seconds behind teammate Bottas. This shows Russell’s incredible talent and how much the sluggish Williams has been holding him back.
Russell got a great start and jumped Bottas for the lead at turn 1. Further back, Leclerc ploughed into the side of Perez, taking Verstappen with them. A safety car was called to retrieve the Ferrari and Red Bull while Perez pit and dropped to 18th. Norris got an excellent start and was up to 10th while his teammate was 3rd.
The racing restarted on lap 7 and Russell stretched out of DRS range to Bottas. Perez also had a good restart and was 11th by lap 12.
Kvyat was the first of the top 10 to pit on lap 28 and managed to undercut Ricciardo. Sainz and Ricciardo then pit, promoting Stroll to 3rd, almost half a lap behind the two Mercedes.
On lap 42, Ocon pit from 4th and emerges 10th. Stroll reacted and managed to stay ahead of the Frenchman, but not for long. He lost 9th place to Ocon who had warmer tyres.
On lap 46, Russell pit from the lead, being reminded to pull into the first pit box this weekend. On his out lap, he radioed in that he had ‘no power’. No fear, though – it was just a sensor issue.
On lap 50 Bottas pit and Russell regained the lead. He was very much in control of this race and was keeping calm. I was a bag of nerves.
On lap 55, a virtual safety car was called to recover Latifi’s stranded Williams. It was a quick VSC period and Sainz and Ricciardo timed their pit stop wrong and lost out emerging 7th and 8th. Perez jumped Stroll for 4th on lap 58 and also overtook Ocon a lap later.
On lap 62, Aitken pit as he spun and lost his front wing. A safety car was called to retrieve the debris. Disaster struck for Mercedes as they double stacked their pit stop and mixed up the tyres. Russell had a 5.3 second stop and went out with Bottas’ tyres on while Bottas was stationary for 27.4 seconds as ended up back on his old, worn hard tyres. Russell then pit the following lap to change onto his correct tyres. They were behind the safety car in 4th and 5th with Perez in the lead. It was not over yet!
Russell did an excellent job to regain positions, overtaking more experienced teammate Bottas, then Stroll, then Ocon for 2nd within a few laps. Bottas’ old tyres weren’t doing him any good and he was holding up those behind him, promptly dropping to 9th. George was invincible and was setting fastest lap after fastest lap.
“Left rear puncture”
The radio message we all dreaded to hear. Russell had to pit for a 4th time and plunged to 15th. The hope of a race win was dashed. ‘I don’t know what to say’ said Russell over the radio, and frankly, nor did we.
Russell fought his way back up the grid to finish 9th with the fastest lap, securing 3 points (his first ever F1 points). Perez crossed the line for his long-awaited first F1 race win after 10 years and 194 races. Ocon took his first podium in 2nd and Stroll finishes 3rd. This was a great points haul for Racing Point and surely secures them 3rd in the Constructors’ Championship, and that extra prize money.
I was so excited for this race, hoping for a top 5 finish for Russell but it wasn’t meant to be. He showed incredible skill, stayed calm and kept his head straight and ultimately the result wasn’t his fault.
This lead to me to think, would this mix up have happened if Hamilton was in that car? All weekend, Russell was polite and considerate over the radio where we know Hamilton isn’t always. The double stacked pit stop was unnecessary as the tyres were fine and they were 20+ seconds ahead of the driver in 3rd. Would Hamilton have declined that pit stop as he knows from experience it could go wrong? I don’t think this is the end of the Russell and Mercedes pairing. Perhaps, he’ll race in Abu Dhabi too if Hamilton is still sick, or he could get a Mercedes seat in 2022?
Another question to raise is why no-one has snapped up Perez for next year. He is out of a Racing Point seat next year and hasn’t announced his 2021 plans yet. This race, like many others this year, proves what an excellent driver he is and he deserves more.