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Aside from the superb job the track marshalls and fire crews did at the scene of Romain Grosjean’s accident, I’d like to join in the chorus of praising the work of two individuals.
The medical car delegation of Alan van der Merwe and Dr Ian Roberts ran towards that raging ball of fire wearing open face helmets and wielding a simple fire extinguisher, just to get Romain out of there.
That’s the legacy of Professor Sid Watkins in action.
Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir
It may be in the middle of an island paradise, but you can say something positive about Sakhir that can’t be said about other circuits….
There’s plenty of room for overtaking.
Duncraig Dan 2020, Chapter 15: Goodness Gracious, Great Balls Of Fire!
Having escaped Europe with Lewis Hamilton sealing world title No.7, and the second wave of COVID-19 about to bring the end of human civilisation, the Formula 1 World Championship ventured to the Middle East (Bahrain followed by Abu Dhabi) to face a fresh wave of sportswashing accusations from human rights groups, and to finally bring an end to the 2020 season.
It was a much quieter build-up in the fortnight since Turkey, with the discussion about if/when Lewis Hamilton will become Sir Lewis Hamilton, the 2020 driver salaries being published, no confirmation on Haas driver line-ups in 2021 (Schumacher/Mazepin does seems the go), nor anything regarding Sergio Perez and whether he’ll be on his couch or potentially in a Red Bull next year.
Speaking of Red Bull’s second seat, during Friday practice, Alex Albon had a fair old crash out of the final corner after going a bit too wide, and staying on the throttle made the rear step out with the lack of grip, firing the Red Bull straight into the tyre barrier, forcing the team to make a chassis change due to the substantial damage.
Oddly enough, right as the cars got back on the track, the red flag was straight back out when a dog got on the track for the second race weekend in a row.
With drivers radioing back and saying they’d seen a dog or a cat (As Daniel Ricciardo described it) at Turn 4, Sebastian Vettel started singing Who Let The Dogs Out on the Ferrari radio.
That good girl was found alive and well, and is now in the care of the BSPCA of Bahrain – They might call her Toto Woof… or Furrari… Or Spaniel Ricciardo.
After the usual suspects went out in Q1, in Q2, AlphaTauri (Pierre Gasly and Daniil Kvyat) were the only drivers of the 15 still running to go out on Soft tyres, with most teams looking to start the race on the Medium tyre with how quickly the Softs degraded, but with 9 minutes to go in the middle session and nobody having set a lap time, Carlos Sainz brought out the Red Flag when his rear brakes failed at Turn 1, leaving every driver with 1 genuine chance to get into Q3.
Continuing his horror run in Sakhir (He’s never scored a point in 6 attempts), Sainz would also have to start from 15th, leaving McLaren at a major disadvantage in the fight against Racing Point.
Ultimately, both Mercedes, Red Bulls, AlphaTauris and Renaults, plus Sergio Perez (Racing Point) and Lando Norris (McLaren) progressed, with every Top 10 driver setting their best time on Mediums, while both Ferraris were eliminated in 11th and 12th (After starting 1-2 in 2018 & ’19), as was Turkey polesitter Stroll in 13th, having been the victim of a miscommunication and trying his final run on used Medium tyres.
On the bright side, Sir Lancelot was able to go to the toilet and take a leak.
Just to let you know who was going to start on Pole, Lewis Hamilton (On Medium tyres) bested Charles LeClerc’s 2019 pole time in Q2 – 1.27.586, compared to 1.27.866.
As he so often does, Hamilton went even better in Q3 and set a 1.27.264 to take his 98th career Pole Position, Valtteri Bottas secured another Mercedes front row lockout ahead of Verstappen, with both drivers also under the old lap record, as normalcy returned with a Hamilton-Bottas-Verstappen 1-2-3.
Albon recovered well to start 4th, Perez tipped out Ricciardo for 5th at the last second, with Daniel just 0.002s faster than teammate Esteban Ocon, easily the closest the Renaults have been all season, even though the Australian now leads the Saturday head to head 14-1.
Death, taxes and George Russell out-qualifying his teammate – That’s now 36 head-to-head wins in a row for the Williams driver, who just needs a championship point sometime soon.
It was actually the first time Red Bull had started in the Top 3 at Bahrain since it became a night race in 2014, and it was the first dry qualifying session all year in which every Top 10 starter was able to qualify on the Medium tyre, which seemingly negated the free tyre choice for those starting outside the Top 10, putting the likes of Ferrari at a major disadvantage with their lack of straight line speed.
Race (57 Laps)
It’s worth noting that this weekend was FIA Volunteers Weekend, because those volunteers would play a huge role in the events on Lap 1.
The Lap 1 Accident
On the 350m drag down to the Turn 1 hairpin, Hamilton led from Verstappen, Perez started well, Bottas dropped 4 places behind Albon and Ricciardo, and in the squabble on the run to Turn 4, Norris damaged his front wing, Stroll and Raikkonen went off road, but in one of the worst accidents in living memory…
Romain Grosjean speared straight through an armco barrier at 200km/h, the Haas was ripped in half, and ignited into a fireball on impact.
The accident was like a frightening mix of Martin Donnelly at Jerez in 1990 (The car split in half), and Gerhard Berger at Imola in 1989 (The fiery explosion on impact)…
Fires on cars (Mostly due to power unit failures) aren’t unusual in this era of F1, but a car igniting like that hasn’t happened since refuelling was still allowed.
Karun Chandok’s analysis on Sky F1 showed Grosjean turning sharp right for multiple potential reasons; Kimi Raikkonen eventually rejoining the racetrack to his left, flying debris hitting the right front tyre, trying to take advantage of the squabbles ahead, which led to Grosjean hitting Kvyat in his blindspot, and being fired towards the barrier.
Another frightening part was that during the impact, the survival cell was EMBEDDED IN THE ARMCO WITH GROSJEAN STILL INSIDE, having cracked apart like an egg, which is what caused the fireball when the fuel cell went with the car.
Thanks to the titanium Halo, which protected his head and parted the barrier on impact (Enough to create a small escape window), the HANS device, the 5 layers of fireproof clothing, and the quick response of the medical crew and the marshalls, Grosjean escaped after 28 seconds in the car (Longer than the recommended 8-10 seconds by the FIA in a fire situation), having not only survived the fire, but the immense deceleration (137mph and 53G on impact).
That story of survival was decades of painstaking safety research and innovation by hundreds of people at the FIA coming home to roost.
Grosjean was taken to hospital in a helicopter, having received light burns to his hands and ankles (Which weren’t totally protected), plus suspected fractured ribs, but thank buggery it wasn’t worse.
It was only when the news of Grosjean escaping serious injuries was confirmed that FOM decided to start replaying the incident from 365 different angles, a decision that Daniel Ricciardo was “Disgusted and disappointed” by, partly because all the drivers saw the incident replayed several times on the screens at the circuit, which would’ve been somewhat unsettling to view before getting back in the car.
With the barrier destroyed (Which is a story in of itself), the race would be on for a long delay while the barrier was replaced with a concrete wall, but at least there was still going to be a race.
The Restarted Race (Laps 3-57)
After an 82 minute stoppage, the session restarted at 6:35pm local, with the new grid based on the race order at the second safety car line on Lap 1, which put Bottas back ahead of Albon and Ricciardo to 4th.
The parade lap counted as Lap 2, and when the race recommenced on Lap 3, the Top 5 held position into Turn 1, Ricciardo had a bad restart and fell to 10th, and in the second major accident involving Kvyat in 4 laps, Stroll was flipped on his lid after banging wheels with the Russian at the exit of Turn 8, and out came Bernd Maylander and the Safety Car for the first time since Imola.
The Grosjean collision wasn’t Kvyat’s fault, but this time around, the former Russian Torpedo was handed a 10-second time penalty to be served at his pit stop.
Bottas also had to pit due to a suspected front right puncture after hitting a piece of debris, falling out of contention for a podium, and Kevin Magnussen had to pit for a new nose cone after clipping Vettel in the Stroll incident, because apparently Haas haven’t suffered enough.
The race restarted on Lap 9, and on the first green lap of the race, Ocon and LeClerc engaged in some tough clean racing, Ricciardo still struggled badly and was passed by Sainz (On Soft tyres) and briefly Pierre Gasly (Who had switched to Hard tyres in the Red flag), while Bottas was struggling to pass Vettel in the early DRS train, adding to his woes.
2021 Ferrari teammates Sainz and LeClerc took each other on through Sector 1 on Lap 12, which allowed Ricciardo back up to 8th place thanks to a trademark Honey Badger move at the Turn 8 hairpin, and thankfully LeClerc gave the space.
Without the aid of DRS to peg back the horsepower deficit, the Ferrari was a sitting duck to Gasly, and languishing in last, Vettel commented on the radio that the SF1000 was “Undriveable”, which makes sense after seeing that the German spun the moment the rear twitched on Lap 12, an incident that wasn’t shown on the world feed.
On Lap 17, Hamilton led by 3.3 seconds to Verstappen, Perez had Albon covered in their contest for 3rd, and it was on his lap that Ricciardo and Renault bit the bullet first and stopped for Hard tyres, originally hoping to make a 1-stop work.
Ocon went on to another set of Medium tyres, overcoming a brief magnesium fire on the wheel nut, emerging back ahead of his Renault teammate.
Bottas endured more frustration when he was simply unable to pass Raikkonen in 14th, who had front wing damage from Lap 3, but also had DRS thanks to being within a second of George Russell, which eventually ended when the Williams pitted.
Hamilton stopped at the end of Lap 19, comitting to a 2-stop strategy, with Verstappen inheriting the lead for a lap before he and Perez stopped for Hard tyres on Lap 20, with the Red Bull emerging back ahead of Sainz, and that little bit of lost time dropped the McLaren behind the Renaults when Sainz stopped the next lap, after he’d done a fantastic job starting on the Soft tyres.
Funnily enough, Lap 20 was the only lap that Hamilton didn’t lead.
With nothing to lose, Verstappen decided to go “Full send” and set a new fastest lap, but he was going to have to do more than that to have a sniff of passing the World Champion.
Bottas had jumped up to 6th with the pit stop activity, but he was some 3 seconds off Hamilton’s pace, and on Lap 25, Norris flew by the Finn down the pit straight, giving us the rare sight of a Mercedes being out-dragged down a straight.
In a problem reminiscent to Styria, Renault didn’t force a position swap between Ocon and Ricciardo when Daniel was the faster driver, and it cost them dearly when Sainz swamped by Ricciardo on Lap 25.
On Lap 26, Sainz made it a double down the outside of Ocon into Turn 1, jumping up to 6th place.
It was apparent that the Hard tyre just wasn’t going the distance that the teams had hoped to make a 1-stop strategy really work, leaving Ricciardo in an awkward strategic position.
The only exception was Pierre Gasly, who was able to 1-stop (On Lap 25) thanks to that Red Flag tyre change, and spent most of the race in the Top 10.
Eventually, Renault swapped positions on Lap 30, but they were now well and truly behind both McLarens, and falling further behind.
After a couple of laps of boredom, Red Bull tried an undercut with both cars on Lap 35, but Verstappen’s stop was a 5.1 second botch job, although Albon’s was much better, and Ocon stopped again, this time for the Hard Tyre to end the race.
Mercedes covered off Verstappen with Hamilton pitting next lap, getting him back ahead of Perez on the road, which forced Racing Point to make a late call to bring the Mexican in, which cost them nothing in terms of track position to Albon, as Racing Point looked good for consecutive podiums.
Meantime, Ricciardo stayed out long enough to find himself back out behind Ocon on Lap 37, but this time there were no team orders, and Ricciardo found a way past the French driver next lap for what was 10th place on track.
Sainz stopped on Lap 41, but found himself annoyed by a slow stop that dropped him behind LeClerc (Briefly), which made Ferrari call Charles in for his last tyre change, and Bottas, who stopped back on to the 3 tyres that hadn’t been punctured earlier, passed Ocon for 9th during Lap 43.
Yes, Valtteri stopped for 3 tyres, which is legal as per the Sporting Regulations, so long as they’re the same compound as the unchanged tyre.
Norris caught and passed Gasly for 5th by Lap 44, and by now, was dropping huge chunks of time by staying out long, but AlphaTauri were damned if they pitted Gasly again, given he’d drop out of the points with the 24 second drop, and damned if they didn’t with how far up the field the French driver was.
In what was the right move, Gasly soldiered on.
With 10 laps to go, Verstappen, who had a pit stop in hand over Perez, decided to pit again and go for the fastest lap, which he achieved fairly comfortably on Lap 48.
Despite AlphaTauri’s claims that Sainz had a brake problem, the Spaniard ruthlessly cut into the margin to Gasly seconds at a time, and eventually did what he couldn’t do at Monza, with a sweet cutback out of Turn 3 on Lap 51 giving 6th place to the Smooth Operator.
I can hear Sade playing my head watching that move.
With Gasly struggling to even get a hint of traction, Ricciardo was lining up to have a shot at 7th before the chequered flag dropped, but Daniel’s progress was stifled by part of the bodywork coming loose and dragging under the car, which caused excess sparking and a loss of downforce.
Then, on Lap 54, with the race really dying down after that dramatic start…
PEREZ, CERTAIN OF A PODIUM, STARTED BILLOWING SMOKE DOWN THE PIT STRAIGHT!
Ironically, this was after Checo had asked his pit wall “Are you falling asleep – Wake up, wake up!”, so uneventful was the race.
It certainly looks like his engine decided to fall asleep.
After finishing in the Top 10 in every race he’d started in 2020, the Mexican’s Mercedes power unit had expired and eventually burst into flames through Turn 10, and what a horrible turn of events for Racing Point, who were now going to lose 22 points to McLaren, and Alex Albon, after sitting 4th for pretty much the entire race, was bumped up to his second podium of 2020.
Just to cap it off, a marshall ran across the track in front of a startled Norris, who described him as the bravest guy I’ve ever seen, given he was probably acting on instinct after seeing the fire.
“That’s the bravest guy I’ve ever seen!”
“Brave, or stupid?”
“I want to say brave.”
With only 3 laps remaining, the position of the barbecued Pink Panther meant the race was guaranteed to finish behind the Safety Car, and perhaps it was fitting that a race that began with fire would end with fire.
So, with Bernd Maylander forfeiting the chance to cross the line first, Lewis Hamilton made it 11 wins in 2020, as Verstappen (Who got the bonus point) and Albon scored Red Bull’s first double podium since Japan 2017, Norris and Sainz rounded out the Top 5 on a huge day for McLaren, Gasly made the one-stop work for 6th, with Ricciardo 7th (Promoting him back to 4th in the Drivers standings), Bottas 8th, Ocon 9th, and LeClerc, first of the lapped cars, inheriting the last point for Ferrari.
He may have had a big bit of luck fall his way, but Albon also made history as the first Asian driver to record multiple podiums in F1 – Kamuyi Kobayashi, Takuma Sato and Aguri Suzuki all recorded one podium each.
And, to cap off an explosive evening, there was still room for the traditional post-race fireworks.
Bravo, Bahrain, Bravo.
Jesus Mary and Joseph, where do you start.
Well, it’s got to be that Romain gave an update from his hospital bed, praising the Halo device that he’d once been a critic of, for saving his life.
Between the events of Sunday night, the Alonso-LeClerc crash at Spa in 2018, and Alex Peroni getting shot into space in an F3 race at Monza last year, the Halo, despite criticism for apparently making the cars look ugly, has proven itself as one of the most important safety innovations in open wheel racing since seatbelts.
F1’s Managing Director Of Motorsports Ross Brawn appeared on Sky F1, and also agreed that the Halo had saved Romain’s life, given barrier splitting had so often led to fatalities in F1 (Francois Cevert and Helmuth Koinigg being examples):
Alan van der Merwe and Dr Roberts also appeared on Sky F1, explaining what they witnessed at the scene of the accident and the course of action:
van der Merwe later released a statement on Twitter:
Lewis Hamilton may have won the race, but safety won the day.
Verstappen now has a shot at 2nd place in the Championship thanks to Valtteri’s recent rotten run (19 points vs 4 in this race), Ricciardo ticks past 100 points and goes back to 4th place thanks to Checo’s failure, as the Top 5 finishes to Norris, Sainz and Albon mean 4th through 9th are now separated by a mere 17 points with 2 races to go.
It’s actually amazing – 4th to 6th place are split by just 4 points, and 7th to 9th by just 1.
The Perez PU failure was bordering on catastrophic for Racing Point in the fight for 3rd in the Constructors’ Championship, because instead of maintaining 3rd by about 2 points, McLaren achieved a huge 22-point swing with the double DNF (More like Racing No Points), meaning the Woking team are now 17 points clear, and barring a miracle, Renault are now pretty much out of play for 3rd, being 27 points back in 5th, although they did claw back 8 points to 4th place, which is very much in play.
And, unless the Sakhir Outer Circuit proves to be a DRS train (Which it might) this coming Sunday, it looks like Ferrari are once again going to be preparing for Clubber Lang’s favourite outcome…
Next Up: Bahrain/Sakhir Part II this weekend.