RUSSELL AND PEREZ BRILLIANT AT SAKHIR GRAND PRIX
Following an action-packed race around the short circuit at the Bahrain International Raceway, it was Racing Point’s Sergio Perez who took his first Formula 1 victory in the Sakhir Grand Prix.
It came off the back of a stellar performance from George Russell, driving Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes, where the Silver Arrows threw away a lead and likely debut win for the man from Kings Lynn.
Russell was on his way to an accomplished victory before a late-race safety car during which the team chose to take a precautionary pit stop double stacking their drivers to do so. The decision proved disastrous as the team put the wrong tyres on Russell’s car and in the confusion could not find the right tyres for his team-mate Valtteri Bottas, who had to have his old tyres fitted back on to his car.
Russell then had to stop again on the next lap to rectify the error dropping him from a well-earned and justified P1 down to fifth.
However, instead of demotivating Russell, it seemed to give him yet another gear, as he started to calve his way through the field back up to second place in a series of overtaking manoeuvres which included that of his teammate Bottas.
With leader Perez in his sights, Russell’s hopes were dashed a second time after a message from the team that he had suffered a slow puncture and should pit for tyres. This further stop essentially ended Russell’s chances of both a podium and a points finish with him rejoining the race in last place.
Whilst Perez had been the beneficiary of Russell’s misfortune, his performance was no less impressive, having pitted at the end of the first lap after being hit by Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc. He rejoined the race in last place and emulating Russell, drove a superb race through the field and following Mercedes’ debacle finish as the race winner.
Renault’s Esteban Ocon took P2 for his first F1 podium finish, with Lance Stroll in P3 making it P1 and P3 for Racing Point.
It was an impeccable performance from an emotionally shattered George Russell, who had muscled his way off the start line from P2 on the grid, pushing his team mate Bottas into second place on the first corner. Bottas was struggling for grip but he recovered his composure to consolidate his position.
There then followed a safety car after Charles Leclerc locked up in an ambitious move down his inside of Perez. The collision causing Perez’s unscheduled pitstop also forced Max Verstappen to take evasive action with him hitting the barrier and ending his race.
Following the race, it was adjudged by the stewards that Leclerc was at fault and gave him a three-place grid penalty for this weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Following the restart Russell drove faultlessly taking his one scheduled stop and retaining the lead as the pit stops unfolded pulling out a lead over his teammate of over 5 seconds.
It was then on lap 61 that F1 debutant Jack Aitken lost the tail of his Williams exiting the final corner and collided with the barrier, ripping his front wing from the car. He recovered to the pits for a new wing, but the safety car was deployed for a second time in the race to recover the debris from the track.
Mercedes chose to bring the cars in together, with the intention of fitting new medium tyres so they were not vulnerable at the re-start. However, a problem with the team radio meant a mixed set of tyres was fitted to Russell’s car – he had Bottas’ fronts and his own rears – and he had to come in again the next time around to rectify the mistake.
The race stewards investigated Russell being sent out on track with his team-mate’s tyres on his car but chose not to penalise the driver. Mercedes, however, were fined 20,000 euros for the incident.
Russell quickly passed Bottas after the restart followed by consecutive passes of Stroll and Ocon and was hot on the heels of Perez when the puncture message came through on the radio.
After the chequered flag, Russell was clearly gutted at missing out on both podium and points in a race he should have won.
“I don’t know what to say,” he said on the radio, with his race engineer for the day, Pete Bonington, agreeing.
The Mercedes pair ended the race in P8 and P9 with Bottas losing places to Sainz, Ricciardo, and Albon in the final laps while finishing ahead of Russell.
In his post-race interview Perez said, “I am a little bit speechless. I hope I am not dreaming because I dream so many years being in this moment – 10 years it took me, I don’t know what to say. Incredible; after the start I thought the race was again gone but it was all about not giving up and recovering. The luck has not been with us this year, but we won the race on merit. Yes, the Mercedes had some issues, but we had the pace to hold George.”
The season finale in Abu Dhabi next weekend. Will Lewis Hamilton recover in time, or will Russell get a chance to avenge his misfortune?
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