Here’s yet another reminder that as of 6pm Australian Western Standard Time, on the 7th of December 2020, Sergio Perez, despite winning the Sakhir Grand Prix and sitting 4th in the World Championship, does not have a seat in Formula 1 for 2021.
There are some things that money just can’t fix.
Formula 1 Sakhir Grand Prix
Sakhir Outer Circuit
I think this unique 3.543km high-speed layout (Which was part of the ‘Endurance’ layout for the 2010 Bahrain GP) can be summed up by a quote from Carlos Sainz as he approached Turn 5 in Practice 1.
“So I need to turn left here?”
When the Outer Sakhir race was announced in August, simulators projected lap times below 55 seconds per lap with how long the cars were at 100% throttle, making it a near certainty we’d see sub-60 second lap times for the first time since the 1974 French Grand Prix at Dijon-Prenois, where Niki Lauda’s pole position time was 58.79s, which would finally be eclipsed as the shortest lap in F1 history after 46 years.
However, there had never been sub-60 second lap times set during a race, so there would be a first this weekend.
Duncraig Dan 2020, Chapter 16: When the cat goes away, the mice will play
Holy crap, what a week it was after the frightening evening that was the Bahrain Grand Prix.
It started with Romain Grosjean officially being ruled out of the weekend out due to his hands still healing from the burns sustained in the Lap 1 inferno, before he was discharged from hospital on Wednesday, after which he travelled back to the circuit to meet the personnel who helped him escape the crash, followed by the announcement on Sunday that he won’t drive in Abu Dhabi and will head home to Switzerland to recover, meaning that this weekend was Romain’s last in person with the Haas team, and his last in F1, and plenty of emotion was shown when he said his final goodbyes to the crew.
Donning my Captain Obvious cape, the important part is that Romain will be telling his survival tale until he’s old and grey, starting with Martin Brundle on Sky F1.
Haas then called up reserve driver Pietro Fittipaldi, grandson of the 2-time World Champion Emerson Fittipaldi in his place, which made Pietro (Among many things) the first Brazilian in F1 since Felipe Massa retired after 2017, the fourth Fittipaldi to drive in F1, and the first grandson of an F1 driver to compete in a Grand Prix.
Haas also announced during the week that Nikita Mazepin (On Tuesday) and the new Formula 2 Champion Mick Schumacher (On Thursday) will drive for the team in 2021, and based on this weekend’s F2 round, it’ll be a sight to see Mazepin trying to run everyone into the wall while he’s being lapped.
As the world knows, the Mazepin news was overshadowed by the relative earth-shattering news of Lewis Hamilton testing positive for Coronavirus during routine testing, which meant the 7-time World Champion would miss a Grand Prix for the first time since he debuted in 2007, some 265 races ago.
In circumstances that were very 2020, Lewis lost the chance to join Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel with 13 wins in a season, and he’ll have to wait until 2021 to have a shot at 100 Pole Positions.
Instead of turning to reserve driver Stoffel Vandoorne for the most coveted race seat in history, Toto Wolff and Mercedes yanked everyone’s favourite pointless driver George Russell (Who is a Mercedes junior driver) from Williams, and stuffed him in a W11 that wasn’t quite designed for his tall frame, and with a spot at Williams available, the Grove team turned to F2 driver Jack Aitken to make his F1 debut, also becoming the first driver of Korean descent to start a Grand Prix.
As a result, Hamilton became the first World Champion since Niki Lauda in 1977 to miss a Grand Prix weekend after winning the title – Back then, Lauda walked out on Ferrari with 2 races remaining in the season, having already signed with Brabham for 1978.
All of that made the complaining about Renault using 39-year-old Fernando Alonso in next week’s Abu Dhabi young drivers test look boring – Fernando will also drive his 2005 title-winning Renault R25 next weekend, which probably has something to do with it being Renault’s last Grand Prix before they rebrand themselves to Alpine.
Despite being so tall that his feet were sticking out of the front wing in shoes that were one size too small, George Russell slotted straight into the Mercedes and set the fastest times in both FP1 and FP2 on Friday, and I reckon he was having a blast getting to drive the fastest F1 car ever seen, after 2 years of driving Fred Flintstone’s foot mobile at Williams.
When it came to Qualifying, the Saturday Specialist Russell got into Q3 for the first time in his relatively short career, and came mighty close to taking a maiden pole position, but as most people expected, it was Valtteri Bottas who started from pole position in the absence of his esteemed teammate Hamilton, also becoming the first teammate to out-qualify George Russell in his 37 Saturday appearances.
Unlike the other teams, Mercedes made use of the short layout to go on 3 runs during Q3, and that middle run on an empty track proved to be the moment Bottas set the new shortest lap time in F1 history (53.377), with Russell ending up only 0.026s slower after improving on his final run, with both drivers being able to start on the Medium tyre after a relaxing Q2.
Max Verstappen was fastest in Q2 and started 3rd, just 0.056s behind Bottas, with Max once again looking the only realistic threat to breaking up a Silver Arrows 1-2, and Charles LeClerc made good use of a tow to somehow start 4th, even as he ran out of Soft tyres in Q3 and spent about 8 minutes triumphantly staring out the pit wall.
The remaining Top 10 starters were actually slower in Q3 than they were in Q2.
Sergio Perez only lost 3-thousandths and started 5th for the second weekend running, Daniil Kvyat clawed back enough time on his last lap to start 6th, bumping Daniel Ricciardo down to 7th alongside the lead McLaren of Carlos Sainz, with Pierre Gasly and Lance Stroll suffering floor damage on the kerbs in Q2 and finishing well down in 9th and 10th.
Making up the rest of the grid, Esteban Ocon and Alex Albon started 11th and 12th, with Albon doing his one step forward two steps back routine, Sebastian Vettel was the cursed 13th alongside Antonio Giovinazzi, Lando Norris was consigned 15th after errors on his final Q2 run, with Kevin Magnussen 16th, Nicholas Latifi finally out-qualified a teammate in F1 after 16 attempts, Jack Aitken started 18th on debut, with Kimi Raikkonen and Pietro Fittipaldi bringing up the caboose.
Fittipaldi would’ve started from last anyway due to a pair of power unit component changes from Grosjean’s old allocation, and he would be joined by Norris on the final row, after McLaren replaced Lando’s Internal Combustion Engine and Turbo Charger on Sunday afternoon.
Race (87 Laps)
Another piece of trivia – In terms of laps, this was the first Grand Prix to have over 80 laps since the 1995 Australian Grand Prix in Adelaide, which had 81, and it was the first GP to have 87 laps since 1954.
It was also the first race without either Lewis Hamilton or Michael Schumacher on the grid since the 1999 European Grand Prix, when Schumacher was still sidelined by a broken leg from Silverstone.
The race started at 8:10pm local (3 hours later than last week) to cater to the European primetime audience, which also meant I had to stay up until 1am just to see the start, because sleep is for normal people.
At the start, Russell and Bottas held 1-2 into Turn 1, but Russell had the inside line and took the lead, and Bottas had a wobble out of Turn 2, which invited Verstappen, Perez and LeClerc to close right up, while Ricciardo and Sainz were right behind in 6th and 7th, as the Bahrain Lap 1 chaos kicked off again.
At the rear, Raikkonen spun at Turn 3 and thankfully avoided any contact, but at Turn 4, LeClerc went up the inside of both Perez and Verstappen, but he locked up, spun Perez and put the Ferrari out on the spot, and Verstappen, trying to be cautious and avoid the accident, ran out of road and ended up in the barrier!
Perez was able to continue, albeit in last on the road (18th) after making the change to Medium tyres, and the Safety Car was deployed with Russell leading a lap of a Grand Prix for the first time… behind Bernd Maylander.
While the clean up was underway, the Top 10 order was Russell, Bottas, Sainz, Ricciardo, Kvyat, Stroll, Gasly, Ocon, Vettel and Norris, who had gained 9 places after starting on the Soft tyre!
In the tussle for 3rd in the Constructors’, it was McLaren and Renault who held the early ascendancy, with Racing Point’s fading hopes now lumped on Stroll’s broad shoulders.
The SC ended to start Lap 7, and Russell built an early lead, while Sainz got a fantastic tow on Bottas and took 2nd place, but went wide at Turn 3 and gave the place straight back, and next lap Norris continued to race with a rocket strapped to his rear wing and passed Vettel into Turn 1.
By Lap 11, Perez (Who stopped during the SC) had worked his way back from 18th to 11th after passing Vettel, and now found himself directly behind Alex Albon, sparking an intense flare-up of talk about which one of them might end up in the second Red Bull seat next soon.
After Russell made the early break, Bottas warmed up a response with a fastest lap on Lap 18, by which time the lead was a consistent 2.1 seconds, and as many people had forecast, there was a ‘DRS Train’ forming between Sainz in 3rd and Gasly in 7th, with all five drivers (Ricciardo, Kvyat, Stroll included) not able to make a dent on each other.
Norris’ early charge was starting to wane with his Softs going sour by Lap 20, leaving him vulnerable to Albon, and after getting a run at Turn 4, Albon charged down the outside and got him at 5, and Perez joined in straight away.
Lando dived for the pits, and Perez attacked and passed Albon at Turn 5 next lap, moving up to 9th place.
On Lap 25, Sainz and Ricciardo had broken clear of Kvyat, Stroll and Gasly, shrinking the DRS train down to 3 carriages, but even then, Stroll couldn’t find a way past the Russian, and Ocon on the Medium was starting to work his way into the race.
The first of the lead runners to pit was Kvyat on Lap 28 to start the Medium tyre stint, forcing McLaren to pit Sainz and cover him off next lap, while Renault also called Ricciardo in on Lap 29, but they made the call too late and Daniel had to traverse an extra lap of Sakhir, and thanks to that, the undercut worked for Kvyat and the AlphaTauri got ahead.
They may have made some solid gains in 2020, but Renault still can’t quite shake the old strategic cock-up every couple of weekends, which will be interesting when they change to Alpine in 2021.
By Lap 33, Russell’s lead was back out to 3 seconds, and everyone up to Vettel in 12th had been lapped, which was just about on par with Mercedes’ prediction of 26 lapped cars, given some backmarkers would get lapped 2-3 times in green conditions.
Meantime, Ricciardo wasn’t able to get close enough to pass Kvyat with the DRS, mainly because he always seemed to lose about 2-3 tenths through the 6-7-8 complex (A possible result of the low-downforce setup), and that pattern continued for another 20+ laps, which literally did go by in the blink of an eye.
With the race settling down, Lance Stroll had gone 43 laps on the Soft tyre, which had put the Canadian into the one-stop window and a big chance at a Top 5 finish, and Ocon behind him stopped on Lap 42 to go to the end on a Hard tyre, which made Racing Point cover him off next lap, and despite Stroll emerging back ahead, Ocon showed some long overdue determination and rounded him up down the outside of Turn 4, setting a fastest lap in the process.
Lap 45 was the time for Mercedes to pit Russell, ironically emerging back behind the unlapped Williams of Aitken, but it looked like Russell could be in trouble when he reported some kind of sensor issue and a loss of power, but it was ultimately resolved thanks to Peter Bonnington guiding him through like an air traffic controller.
Perez and Albon pitted again on Lap 48, emerging back into the lower end of the points, and ending the first round of pit stops, Bottas pitted on Lap 50 and emerged some 8 seconds behind Russell due to the time loss from the undercut, as both drivers got a message to ease up on the Turn 8 kerbs to avoid stressing the suspension beyond its limits.
Gasly stopped for the second time on Lap 52, as Albon rifled past Norris on fresher tyres, Kvyat finally freed Ricciardo by stopping on Lap 54, by leading 50 of the opening 55 laps, George Russell had now led the most laps of anyone not named Hamilton or Bottas in the year 2020.
If you found Doc Brown’s Delorean and travelled back in time and told an F1 fan that statement as recently as last Monday, you’d be in a straitjacket in 5 minutes.
On Lap 55, Nicolas Latifi pulled his Williams off to retire at Turn 9, bringing out the Virtual Safety Car due to marshals coming close to the racing line to remove the car, and while this would’ve been the perfect time for Sainz and Ricciardo to pinch a cheap pit stop and give themselves a shot at running down Perez and Stroll before the end of the race, the VSC ended right as they both pitted, which left them both stranded down in 7th and 8th, having been in the Top 5 for so long.
So that now meant Ocon, Stroll and Perez were all in play for a podium, and keeping up his relentless push back through the pack, Perez made Stroll pay for a lock-up into Turn 4 while he pursued Ocon, and took 4th place.
Perez wasn’t done yet, and next lap, he got a big run on his old Force India teammate Ocon, and went clean down the outside into Turn 4, putting Perez into the podium positions, where he would’ve finished last week before a cruel engine failure.
With the gap to the Mercedes drivers a bridge too far, it looked like that was the Top 5 settled, but things were about to get Pete Evans levels of crazy.
On Lap 63, Jack Aitken spun into the tyre wall opposite the pit lane and lost his front wing, originally leading to another VSC, but with no gap available for a marshal to safely remove the wing left on the track, the Safety Car had to be deployed.
Looking back now, wasn’t it ironic that Jack Aitken in a Williams, who replaced George Russell, started a butterfly effect that cost Russell the greatest chance at a race win he’ll ever get.
As some kind of safety measure, Mercedes decided to bring both cars in during the yellow flag with a big cushion back to Perez, but there were a number of problems.
1. Due to a problem with the team radio and a number of priority messages being missed only Bottas’ crew (The so-called Blue Crew) got the call to get ready for a very late tyre change, while Russell’s Red Crew had no idea what was going on, and the front tyre crew were left behind as everyone else sprung into action.
2. As a result of this ‘major malmisorganisation’, only 6 tyres went into the lane for the double stack – All four of Bottas’ Medium set, and only the rear tyres meant for Russell.
3. When Russell arrived at his box, he overshot the mark and seemingly threw the mechanics off as the tyres slowly rolled away, and by the time chief strategist James Vowles on the pit wall was informed what had happened, Russell drove away with Bottas’ front tyres fitted on his car, which was punishable by Disqualification.
4. When Bottas stopped, he briefly had Russell’s front tyres attached, which the crew realised and rectified in a moment of panic, and Bottas, with his brakes overheating after being held stationary for 27.4 seconds, now had to go back out on his same old Hard tyre set, and he dropped from 2nd to 5th!
5. Having realised which tyres were on car No.63, Mercedes told Russell to come back in and change the mixed set, dropping him back down to 5th after leading most of the race.
The one time people actually wouldn’t be mad seeing a Mercedes driver win, and the team turn into Ferrari and catastrophically shit the bed.
Toto Wolff said it best – It was a colossal **** up.
So with Mercedes getting crushed by their own incompetence, Sergio Perez was now into the lead, having been last on Lap 1, with Esteban Ocon in 2nd for Renault, and Lance Stroll 3rd in the sister Racing Point, with the one-stop strategy coming up a treat thanks to the Safety Car.
After the backmarkers were done unlapping themselves, the race restarted on Lap 68, and just before Perez took off, Stroll locked up heavily and almost hit Ocon, but managed to retain his position.
With the race now resembling the heart attack material in Formula Two, Russell didn’t even need team orders to pass the slower Bottas on Lap 70, executing a lovely sweeping move down the outside of Turn 6 into 7, and the late comeback was on!
Sniffing maple syrup ahead of him, Russell dispatched Stroll into Turn 1 to start Lap 72, and on Lap 73, he said adieu to Ocon at Turn 4, and had now 14 laps to reel in Perez’ 3.4 second lead, but like always, it’s one thing to catch another car, but getting past is the greater challenge.
Also, with the Top 4 drivers on the road having never won a Grand Prix, you could say with confidence that there would be a maiden Grand Prix winner for the second time in 2020!
Russell set the fastest lap on Lap 76 and closed the gap to within 2.5 seconds, while the botched pit stop had left Bottas with no rear grip against the raging pack behind, and on Lap 77-78, the Finn was passed by Sainz at Turn 7, who had lost precious laps to have a shot at a podium:
Then Ricciardo swept by at the last corner thanks to the momentum under braking:
Then, Albon (Who stopped for Softs in the SC) and Kvyat tagged along in the pit straight drag race, and dumped Valtteri down to 9th by the end of Lap 78!
And, just as the audience were set to see an epic fight for the victory to end the race…
ON LAP 80, RUSSELL WAS TOLD HE HAD A SLOW LEFT REAR PUNCTURE AND HAD TO STOP AGAIN!
The cause was identified as being debris from Jack Aitken’s discarded wing… Because there wasn’t enough irony.
Russell fell down to the more familiar 14th position, but spent the rest of the race mercilessly ripping the field to pieces and setting fastest laps with his new pair of Soft tyres, all while the stewards investigated him for fitting incorrect tyres with a maiden points finish in sight.
With Russell out of winning contention, Perez was some 8 seconds clear of Ocon and had 9 fingers on his first Grand Prix victory, with Stroll sticking to 3rd ahead of the charging Sainz, Ricciardo and Albon.
But, the order didn’t change, and making history as the first driver to win a Grand Prix after sitting last following Lap 1….
AFTER 10 SEASONS, SERGIO PEREZ WAS A GRAND PRIX WINNER!
The second Mexican to win a Grand Prix after the late Pedro Rodriguez, who claimed his second and final win at Belgium in 1970, and to go with completing a historic worst to first drive, Perez also shattered Mark Webber’s record for the most Grand Prix starts before a win, with Sakhir being his 190th start, way ahead of the 130 that Webber endured before he won at Germany in 2009.
He’d come so close back in 2012 at a rainy Sepang, hunting down Fernando Alonso in a Sauber, at Monza that same year chasing Lewis Hamilton, and a few weeks ago at Istanbul, but it had finally worked out for the greatest Mexican hero since Pancho Villa.
Completing this unlikely podium, Esteban Ocon, in tears crossing the line, claimed his maiden F1 podium in 2nd place, which was Renault’s best race finish in a decade, and Stroll in 3rd gave Racing Point a double podium, and perhaps it was coincidence, but the podium was comprised of the only 3 drivers in Racing Point’s short history.
Sainz and Ricciardo finished 4th and 5th, having been joined at the hip all day, Albon was right behind them in 6th, Kvyat was consistent all weekend and earned a decent 7th place, with Bottas finishing 8th, Russell did finish in 9th with the fastest lap bonus point, the first 3 points of his F1 career serving as a consolation prize for such a fantastic drive, with Norris getting the final point.
In the meantime, here’s the post-race chat between George Russell, Bono, James Vowles and Toto Wolff, congratulating George on a drive that deserved a far better ending:
It was also the first win for a British Constructor since Lotus won the 2013 Australian Grand Prix, and the first win for the Silverstone-based team since Giancarlo Fisichella won the 2003 Brazilian Grand Prix, when they were going around as Jordan, having also raced as Midland, Spyker, and Force India in the 17 years between victories.
Funnily enough, when Jordan got their maiden win at the 1998 Belgian Grand Prix, they also got a double podium with Damon Hill and Ralf Schumacher in that remarkable 1-2.
It could easily have been Team Principal Otmar Szafnauer collecting the Constructors’ trophy on the podium, but instead, Sporting Director Andy Stevenson, who had been with the team since before Eddie Jordan made the step up to F1 in 1991, went up and joined Perez, Ocon and Stroll in the champagne supernova.
A week after they had a Double DNF, lost 3rd in the Constructors, and needed Lawrence Stroll’s plane to fly in spare parts just to get through this weekend, Racing Point finished 1st and 3rd.
Anything can happen in Formula One… and it usually does.
Charles LeClerc took the blame for the Lap 1 accident, and the stewards issued him a 3-place grid penalty for Abu Dhabi, while Russell was investigated for driving with Valtteri’s tyres for a lap, but despite the threat of a disqualification, Mercedes were issued with a €20,000 fine, and Russell kept his 9th place.
The stewards report stated that mitigating circumstances (The radio failure) had caused the problem, Russell obviously hadn’t gained a sporting advantage, and given this had never happened before, the stewards deemed it to be similar in nature to breaches involving mixed tyre compounds under Article 24.4 b) of the Sporting Regulations, which gives teams a 3-lap window to correct the issue, which Mercedes obviously resolved after 1.
At the very least, Russell has given Mercedes some serious food for thought on future driver line-ups, especially with the way he outdrove Bottas in the same car off barely a week’s preparation.
Now we’ll just have to wait and see how Lewis is feeling in the coming days, and if Russell will get a crack at an encore.
Turning now to Daniel from Duncraig and his French & British comrades, it was an evening of mixed emotions.
Renault finished 2nd and 5th, their best haul of points (28) since the Enstone team was operating as Lotus, but the big downside was that it happened to fall on the same night that their nearest rivals in Racing Point finished 1st and 3rd, pretty much destroying any chance Renault had of claiming 3rd in the Constructors, even though the gap to 3rd actually closed from 28 to 22 points, with the Pink Panthers now 10 points clear of McLaren.
While the Red Sea parted for Esteban Ocon, things just didn’t work out for Daniel – He lost a spot to Sainz in the opening lap madness and couldn’t pass him at all, then the late pit stop call on Lap 29 left him stuck behind Kvyat for 20+ laps, and just to cap it off, they had a case of wrong place wrong time with the first VSC, and that was pretty much that, with the late Mercedes dramas helping him back into the Top 5.
It turned out Ocon starting outside the Top 10 on the Medium tyre set up his successful one-stop strategy, highlighting the stupidity that is the Top 10 tyre rule, where it’s usually more advantageous to start 11th and run long than it is 10th.
Thus, it was a ‘frustrating’ 5th for Dan, which could so easily have been a podium, and the other downside from our Australian POV is that Sergio’s win pretty much settled 4th and 5th in the Drivers’ Standings, with the Mexican now 13 points clear (Even after missing 2 races!) and LeClerc & Sainz 14 & 15 points back on our beloved West Aussie, with the Abu Dhabi grind to end the 2020 World Championship looking like being dominated by Mercedes, Hamilton or no Hamilton.
Up next: The season finale in Abu Dhabi this weekend!