Racing Point Formula One Team’s Sergio Perez has won his first ever Formula One race after 190 starts in the sport. The Mexican now holds the record for the most race starts before his maiden victory, which he took at last night’s Sakhir Grand Prix.
This weekend has been a strange one for the Formula One paddock, as there was a big mix up in terms of who was racing for what team. Lewis Hamilton made headlines a day after winning in Bahrain last weekend for contracting COVID-19, meaning he was unfit to participate in the second race held at the Bahrain International Circuit this week due to isolation laws.
There was a lot of speculation regarding who was going to replace the seven-time world champion, with many believing it to be either Stoffel Vandoorne (Mercedes’ reserve driver) or George Russell. Mercedes opted for the latter, offering the 22-year old a chance to get away from the grid’s slowest car and into the fastest car for a single race.
F2 driver, Jack Aitken, would step in for Russell at Williams, while Pietro Fittipaldi would take the spot of Romain Grosjean, who is still recovering from his horror accident last week, prompting him to miss next weekend’s race in Abu Dhabi.
Sergio Perez’s race didn’t get off to a particularly great start, as Leclerc locked his front tyres in a move up the inside of Verstappen at Turn 4, and spinning the Racing Point driver to the back of the pack.
Leclerc would retire due to suspension damage from the impact, Verstappen would hit the wall in an attempt to avoid the collision, and Perez would be forced to pit at the end of the first lap due to a broken front wing.
WHAT. A. RACE.— Formula 1 (@F1) December 6, 2020
👏 @SChecoPerez 👏#SakhirGP 🇧🇭 #F1 pic.twitter.com/IKkqMAdwEA
Russell had overtaken Valtteri Bottas at the first corner and was set to win the race, however a poor pitstop decision by the Mercedes team had cost the Briton a lot of time.
A safety car was deployed after Jack Aitken spun at the final corner and lost his front wing and Mercedes immediately pitted, opting to double stack both of their drivers. Russell had a relatively quick stop, but Bottas was caught behind and had a very slow stop.
There was confusion when fitting the front-left tyre on Bottas’ car, when the wrong tyre was fitted, but the team eventually switched the tyre and got him on his way again. This did, however, cost the Finn a lot of time. When emerging from the pitlane, he had been jumped by Perez, who had undercut the midfield during the pitstop phase.
Russell was then called into the pits again a lap later as a radio failure caused Mercedes to fit Bottas’ tyre to his car – causing Russell to go from leading the race to emerging in 5th place behind his teammate in 4th.
Sergio Perez took the lead of the race during the drama, while Russell started making his way through the field, passing Bottas, Stroll and Ocon in just a handful of laps.
Though heartbreak would strike for the number 63 driver, with a rear-left tyre puncture with just 10 laps to go, dropping him out of the points during his pitstop.
Toto: 💬 “It was a colossal **** up.”— Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team (@MercedesAMGF1) December 6, 2020
Can’t say it much better than that, boss.#SakhirGP pic.twitter.com/vV4GEMUQ9f
Russell certainly had the pace to win the race last night, as he stormed through the field and was hunting down Perez as the fastest car on the track; though the puncture meant it wasn’t to be.
Russell did eventually finish in 9th place with the fastest lap, meaning he has achieved his first points in Formula One; but I’m sure this wasn’t what the Briton had in mind when he started in second place on the grid.
Once Russell was no longer a threat to Perez, the Mexican was able to cruise home in first place to take a very well-deserved first victory by over 10 seconds to second place.
Esteban Ocon would cross the line as the runner up, finishing on the podium for the first time in his career. Lance Stroll would finish just a second behind Ocon, in third place for a Racing Point double podium.
What a moment what a journey, thank you to everyone for your support it hasn’t been the smoothest season but the hard work finally paid off🔥 #P2 @RenaultF1Team @F1 pic.twitter.com/RsKovZCE1K— Esteban Ocon (@OconEsteban) December 6, 2020
The Sakhir Grand Prix saw a thrilling end, with highs and lows for different drivers. Formula One fans have seen a non-front-running car win for the second time this year, which is a refreshing change from the dominant nature of the sport.
Whether Russell will get another chance with Mercedes next weekend will depend upon whether Lewis Hamilton returns negative for COVID-19. The Formula 2 champion has, however, proven he is worthy of that Mercedes seat, with the German constructor having a very difficult decision to make.