Roger Diez: Formula 1 race in Bahrain had all of the drama
For those who say Formula 1 racing is boring, the Sakhir Grand Prix in Bahrain last Sunday had enough drama for an entire racing season. It featured a substitute driver in the best car in the field, a pair of drivers fighting to remain in the sport, a rare pit error by the championship team that cost them the race, and a first-time winner after 90 tries.
George Russell, on loan from Williams and subbing for newly crowned seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton in the Mercedes, took command of the race at the start. Russell passed teammate and pole sitter Valtteri Bottas into the first corner and only lost the lead during the first round of pit stops for tires. Back in front, the team decided to double-stack for another tire change during a safety car period, and that’s when the wheels fell off (almost literally). A radio malfunction resulted in two of Bottas’ tires fitted to Russel’s car, leaving Bottas to rejoin with his old tires after a confused and lengthy stop. Russell was called back in and also received old tires. He recovered and was back in second reeling in the leader when a slow puncture led to another stop and ended his bid for the win. Sergio Perez cruised to the first F1 victory for both himself and the Racing Point team and advanced to fourth in the driver point standings. Ironically, Perez is out of a ride for next season, being replaced by Sebastian Vettel who is currently 13th in points. Esteban Ocon finished second in his Renault for his first F1 podium, and Lance Stroll came home third, joining teammate Perez on the podium. Bottas and Russell ended up eighth and ninth respectively for Mercedes.
The season finale at Dubai looks to be a different story, not least because Hamilton will return to finish the season while Russell is relegated back to the hapless Williams. At least the three points Russell scored last Sunday put him ahead of both Haas drivers in the standings. Mercedes announced on Thursday that Hamilton has been cleared to qualify and race this weekend after a mandated 10-day quarantine and several negative tests including a final re-test in Dubai. Hamilton is looking to finish the season with 12 wins, one short of a record. Hamilton has won five of the previous 11 races at the Yas Marina circuit, including the last two. The Mercedes team has won the last six Dubai events, four with Hamilton and one each with Bottas and Nico Rosberg. The only other active driver who has scored a victory there is Sebastian Vettel, who has won three times with Red Bull but none with Ferrari.
Going into the final race Mercedes has already clinched the constructors’ title with 540 points to Red Bull’s 282 in second. Racing Point’s 1-3 placing last Sunday leapfrogged the team into third with 194 points, 10 ahead of McLaren’s 184. Renault in fifth place with 172 can possibly move up in the standings at Dubai, as can McLaren. Hamilton is the 2020 driving champion with 332 points, and teammate Bottas is second with 205. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen at 189 could mathematically take over the second spot at Dubai, but it’s unlikely. Perez’ win at Bahrain moved him to third at 125 points, 13 ahead of Daniel Ricciardo’s 112, so there is a chance of a change in standings there as well. The battle for fifth is close with Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz only one point apart, 98 to 97, Albon in the hunt at 93 and Norris a possible at 87. As is the usual case in F1, the mid-pack battles will be fierce. The race will air on ESPN2 at 5:10 a.m. Sunday.