A chaotic race at the Sakhir GP ended with a victory for Sergio Perez. The Racing Point driver, who was last on the first lap after being hit by Charles Leclerc, drove impressively to take the first win of his 190-race career.
Perez was joined on the podium by Esteban Ocon in second and teammate Lance Stroll in third. Carlos Sainz and Daniel Ricciardo came fourth and finish respectively, resulting in a rare set of results without a Mercedes, Red Bull or Ferrari in the top five.
In a way, Sakhir looked as if it would be the same old story – a Mercedes in the lead, albeit with George Russell standing in as the driver, and huge time advantages were opened up as he held a steady lead. The elimination of Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc on the first lap after overtaking manoeuvres went wrong was a huge boon, opening the possibility for the Valtteri Bottas-Russell face-off everyone had expected. Sakhir is a short course, laps lasting under a minute, and it suggested we may see some serious racing.
But it wasn’t to be and, despite some unforced errors from Bottas, the team were ruled out of contention by disastrous pit stops. Bottas took advantage of a safety car on lap 64 to pit, but it was a poor showing – his brakes were on fire, and he eventually left 27 seconds later with the same tyres on. He dragged those tyres out to an uninspiring eighth place finish.
Russel also pitted, and his team put on the wrong tyres, forcing him to put again the next lap. And then he had to pit again in lap 78 due to a puncture – he emerged in 15th and managed to climb back into ninth, earning the first two points of his career and the bonus point for fastest lap. At the time of writing, both cars are under investigation.
These issues ruled both Mercedes out, and left space for a new frontrunner. That turned out to be Sergio Perez, who had steadily been climbing in the ranks with some fine driving – he’d battled Alexander Albon and Lando Norris on lap 20, and made fifth place by lap 32. He overtook his teammate for fourth on lap 57, and was first after the Mercedes chaos on lap 66. He kept pushing and eventually finished ten seconds ahead of Ocon, a commanding victory in his penultimate GP for Racing Point.
We had tremendous pace and I think we did pretty well throughout the weekend
– Sergio Perez
After the race, Perez said: “I am speechless. I hope I am not dreaming because I dream for so many years being in this moment. 10 years it took me. I don’t know what to say. After the first lap race it was gone. It was all about not giving up.
“In the second run I said to the team the car feels like a limousine. It feels so easy. We had tremendous pace and I think we did pretty well throughout the weekend. This season the luck hasn’t been with us. I think we won it on merit. In end pace was strong enough to hold George who had a fantastic race today.”
Ocon said: “I have no words! I cried on the line. There was so much emotion going through my mind. It’s been a tough season on our side, it hasn’t paid off all the time but we never stopped pushing. We kept working hard, kept motivated, so that was very important. When less and less people are believing in you, it is important to believe in yourself and today we made it happen. I’m very pleased. It was hard work but it paid off.”
Stroll said: “Amazing race for the team. Part of me is a little disappointed. I thought I could win the race. I didn’t really have the pace to overtake Esteban. Unbelievable result first and third. It is what we needed for the championship. I’m so happy for Sergio. He has a couple of races left with the team. He has been up there for such a long time waiting for the win and it came this weekend.”
Next week, we head to Abu Dhabi for the final race of the season and, if it’s anything like Sakhir, the 2020 F1 calendar will definitely go out on a high!
With Lewis Hamilton out of the race, the Sakhir GP promised something a little different to his customary domination – but I never expected it to be such an impressive and enjoyable race, and by far the best of the season for the fans. If you’d have told me that Mercedes would collapse and the two Racing Points would make the podium, I’d never have believed you.
With the championship wrapped up, a lot of this race was about the future. Sergio Perez currently has no seat for 2021 and, with Hamilton’s seat essentially secured, there are only two spaces remaining. After his fantastic drive today, I wouldn’t rule the Mexican out of filling one of those two remaining spots. Red Bull may be keen, especially after Alexander Albon’s uninspiring sixth place, which will do little to quell talk he’s heading for the door.
Hopefully he will have another shot at the win he really deserved
In my article on Russell’s temporary appointment to Mercedes, I wrote that the interesting question would be whether Bottas or Russell did better. In the end, Bottas came one place higher, but he had a very flaky race and it will do little to ease questions about his future. Russell’s ninth place was in no way a reflection on him – he was winning for a large chunk of the race and, frankly, he should have won. But he was robbed by circumstances outside of his control, and it was frustrating given his dominance at Sakhir. If Hamilton doesn’t return next week, hopefully he will have another shot at the win he really deserved.