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2020 Sakhir GP Race Recap : The Last became the First!

The 2020 F1 Season was drawing to a close, and two races remained from the truncated calendar. The final triple-header of the year saw two back-to-back races at the Bahrain International Circuit, with the penultimate race getting held on the outer loop of the track. The circuit, which has six variations, had never seen racing on this layout. F1 cars could complete a lap in 55 seconds with drivers applying full throttle for 75% of the lap. A marathon race of 87 laps awaited the teams and drivers where fuel management could prove pivotal. 



It had been an eventful week after the Bahrain GP which saw Romain Grosjean escape from a life-threatening crash. The FIA added a tyre wall to the repaired barriers at turn 3, which was the scene of the accident the previous weekend. Grosjean was still on the mend, and the team brought in the Reserve Driver, Pietro Fittipaldi ( grandson of Emerson Fittipaldi ) as the replacement. Fittipaldi Jr. wasn't the only rookie to take the F1 wheel, however. 



News broke out that Lewis Hamilton, the Seven-Time World Champion had tested positive for COVID-19 and would sit out the Sakhir GP weekend. Mercedes had Reserve Driver Stoffel Vandoorne waiting in the wings, but they chose to promote their protegee George Russell into the vacant W11 seat. While Russell moved across the paddock, Williams gave Jack Aitken, their reserve driver, the chance of driving their 2020 contender. Would these replacements remain for the final race or not remained to be seen, but it was an incredible opportunity for the rookies and Russell to prove their talent and mettle in the best racing series.



Meanwhile, off track, Ferrari announced a reorganisation in their technical department for 2021 with Simone Resta, the head of the Chassis Engineering Department moving to Haas F1. Enrico Cardile was the replacement announced. Haas F1 Team announced their driver line-up for 2021 by bringing in Mick Schumacher, the son of the legendary Michael Schumacher and F2 driver Nikita Mazepin. Callum Ilott, the other contender for the 2020 F2 Crown and Ferrari Academy Driver, got overlooked, unfortunately. 



Only 12 points separated Bottas from Verstappen, and with Hamilton out of the reckoning, both had an opportunity of scoring the maximum haul of points on the weekend. Was the newcomer Russell able to throw a spanner in the works? Albon, in the sister Red Bull, had two more opportunities to prove his worthiness for 2021, was he able to do his chances any good? Racing Point had an opportunity of making right the disappointments of the previous weekend. How did they fare?



Time for a quick recap!



Practice :


FP1 got underway with drivers learning the limits of the new layout while negotiating the bumps and sudden changes of direction. Traffic was another challenge due to the short duration of a lap. Norris narrowly missed hitting Perez while Leclerc ran wide at turn six and Albon suffered a spin at turn two. Gasly's Alpha Tauri's wing mirror came loose, and the Frenchman had to return to the pits cautiously. Russell's tall frame was the cause of some discomfort ( for his shoulders ) in the Mercedes, but the Briton managed to set the fastest time of FP1, a 54.5 seconds lap. 


Less than a second separated the top 10 drivers with Verstappen, Albon, Bottas, Kvyat and Gasly completing the top 6. Vettel split the Renaults of Ocon and Kvyat with Leclerc a further two-tenths adrift. The Racing Points of Stroll and Perez were 11th and 12th followed by Sainz in his McLaren. Raikkonen and Giovinazzi were the fastest Ferrari customer drivers ( in the Alfa Romeo ) while Norris had a disappointing FP1 in 16th. Magnussen, Latifi, Fittipaldi and Aitken completed the rear of the field.



Track limits got enforced at turn eight by the stewards at the start of FP2.  Several drivers had run wide in FP1, and the stewards deemed it necessary to dish out lap-time deletions for infringements. Bottas was one such driver who had a torrid time in FP2, leaving the confines of the track on multiple occasions. He even suffered from multiple lap time deletions from exceeding track limits. The flying gravel from one of his off-track excursions hit Gasly's finger which left him grimacing over the radio. Understeer became a challenge for both Red Bull drivers as they tried to push harder on their qualifying and race simulations. Vettel suffered two spins in the sessions, at turns two and five, narrowly missing a collision with Magnussen in the second incident. Leclerc, in the sister Ferrari, suffered a driveshaft failure early on in the session and was unable to rejoin in FP2. Norris went over the kerbs at turn three which damaged the floor of his McLaren. The Briton returned to the track in the latter half of the session but returned to the pits after McLaren discovered multiple issues on the out-lap. Sainz too suffered from "gear synchronisation" issues, but it was a quick fix in the garage. 


Russell topped the timesheets again with Verstappen and Perez less than two-tenths adrift. Ocon, Albon and Kvyat completed the top 6 with Stroll, Ricciardo and Gasly less than half a second shy of the fastest lap time. Sainz was 10th in his McLaren with Bottas setting only the 11th fastest time in the other Mercedes ( but on the hard tyres ). The Finn's lap times in qualifying simulations on soft tyres got deleted due to exceeding of track limits. The Alfa Romeos of Raikkonen and Giovinazzi improved to 12th and 13th with Magnussen and Latifi a second down on Russell's time. Vettel and Norris languished down in 16th and 17th ahead of rookies Fittipaldi and Aitken. Leclerc didn't set a time in FP2. 



The Friday Practice sessions were a close affair between the teams. A few tenths separated those in the midfield, and it was imperative to have a clean lap on a ( relatively ) clear track to gain the positions on offer. Bottas had a challenging Friday and needed to get the right balance for Saturday. Ferrari and McLaren had compromised running on Friday and needed to do a lot more come Free Practice 3.



Saturday arrived, and it was time for Free Practice 3. Verstappen suffered a spin at turn two while Vettel switched to a different setup for FP3. However, his run got curtailed after a trip on the kerbs and Ferrari opted to change Vettel's engine as a precautionary measure. It was Verstappen who set the fastest time of FP3, two tenths clear of Bottas. Gasly was 3rd in the Alpha Tauri with Ocon, Norris and Albon completing the top 6. Russell was 7th in the other Mercedes followed by Perez, Stroll and Sainz. 


Giovinazzi was performing well in his Alfa Romeo and set the 11th fastest time followed by Kvyat in the other Alpha Tauri. It was a lucky escape for Leclerc who spun at the last turn in the final minutes of the session, en route to the 13th quickest time. Ricciardo split the Ferraris followed by Raikkonen who was more than a second slower of Verstappen's time in 16th. Magnussen, Latifi, Fittipaldi and Aitken remained at the back of the pack.



The Mercedes duo and Verstappen were the class of the field, and the battle for pole promised to be a tight affair. The fight for supremacy in the midfield too was a matter of "fine margins" going into Qualifying. The teams needed to get their calculations right to ensure that their drivers would have the best possible chance to qualify. 



Qualifying :


Fittipaldi got a grid penalty and would start at the back of the grid. The team had to make changes to his power unit elements ( new control electronics and energy store ). Nevertheless, the Brazilian took to the track at the start of Q1. Haas, Williams, Sainz and Raikkonen were the early runners in Q1 with Sainz choosing the hard tyres. The Alpha Tauris and Mercedes followed shortly with medium tyres with the rest of the field opting for softs. All cars were out on track with 10 minutes left of Q1. Norris had his lap time deleted for exceeding of track limits at turn 8.


Verstappen, Perez, Ricciardo, Bottas, Albon and Stroll were the top 6 at the end of the first runs. Sainz was on the cusp of elimination with Raikkonen, Giovinazzi, Aitken, Latifi and Fittipaldi in the drop zone. It wasn't smooth sailing for Raikkonen who complained about braking issues on his first run.


The drivers came out with a fresh set of tyres ( softs ) and the lap times kept improving with track evolution. Aitken jumped to 15th, Latifi to 16th and Raikkonen to 13th. Verstappen, Perez, Ricciardo, Sainz and Albon chose to stay put as the rest of the field tried to sure up their chances of making it into Q2. Bottas went the fastest at the end of Q1 from Verstappen and Russell. The McLaren of Norris was 4th fastest followed by Gasly and Perez. Albon had a lucky escape in the final minutes of Q1 as he ended with only the 15th quickest time. The eliminations from Q1 were Magnussen, Latifi, Aitken, Raikkonen and Fittipaldi. 




Q2 got underway with the Renaults, Racing Points and Albon opting to stay in the pits while the Mercedes, Ferraris and Verstappen chose the medium tyres for their first runs. Gasly exceeded track limits at turn eight and had his lap time deleted. Five-hundredths of a second separated Perez, Bottas, Sainz, Russell and Stroll ( top 5 ) with Gasly, Leclerc, Vettel, Norris and Giovinazzi in the drop zone. 


The Ferrari drivers emerged with a new set of medium tyres, but Vettel aborted his flying lap and returned to the pits. Vettel didn't have the confidence of making it into Q3 with the mediumsbut Leclerc continued and broke into the top 6. Barring the Mercedes drivers, the rest of the field chose the soft tyres. Norris made two attempts to set a representative lap time but aborted both attempts. 


Verstappen ended Q2 with the quickest time from Perez and Bottas. Sainz, Russell and Leclerc completed the top 6 with Ocon, Albon, Vettel, Giovinazzi and Norris getting knocked out.



The start of Q3 saw Gasly emerge out of the pits with a set of medium tyres while his team-mate Kvyat and the Racing Point drivers chose to stay put. The first runs were complete, and it was Verstappen on provisional pole from Leclerc and Bottas, a tenth separating the trio. Perez was 4th, splitting the Mercedes following by Ricciardo, Sainz, Stroll, Kvyat and Gasly. However, the Mercedes duo had set their lap times on used softs, and they would go quicker on their final runs.


Leclerc had set a blistering lap time, but was out of soft tyres and couldn't take further part in Q3. Bottas and Russell had tyres for two more attempts, and both didn't disappoint. They locked out the front row with five minutes left on the clock. The final minutes of Q3 saw the battle for pole intensify. 


Bottas, Russell and Verstappen were setting blistering sector times, but it was Bottas who bagged pole for the Sakhir GP. Russell was shy by two-hundredths and Verstappen by five-hundredths. Leclerc's earlier attempt was good enough for 4th with Perez and Kvyat taking up row 3. Row 4 got snapped up by Ricciardo and Sainz and five by Gasly and Stroll.



It had been a close contest for pole, but Bottas got the job done in the end. Russell put in a fine effort to be within two-hundredths of Bottas' time on his first outing. Mercedes got another front-row lockout and were the favourites for victory on race day. Verstappen would be disappointed to have missed a front row start by a small margin. No one predicted Ferrari to be on row 2 of the grid, but Leclerc accomplished the unthinkable. Sunday would be the real challenge though. Perez's performances in the Racing Point continued to impress one and all, and Kvyat produced a stellar lap to end up 6th on the grid. The midfield was tight as ever, and strategy would prove pivotal in the battle between the Renaults, McLarens, Racing Points and the Alpha Tauris. 


Albon had yet another mediocre performance on Saturday and needed to step up on Sunday whereas Vettel was still struggling with the balance of his car. The German had a free tyre choice, and the race could be a different story. Giovinazzi would be encouraged with another appearance in Q2 for Alfa Romeo, edging out Norris who looked off the pace throughout Qualifying. Magnussen was the best bet for Haas, and Latifi and Aitken would be ecstatic about edging out former World Champion Raikkonen in Qualifying. Raikkonen, on the other hand, would be looking to set things right on Sunday.



A mammoth 87 laps awaited the teams in what promised to be an exciting race under the lights of the Bahrain International Circuit. 



Race :


Pirelli provided the same sets of dry tyres from the previous weekend ( C2, C3 and C4 ) in what seemed to be a two-stop race.


Norris and McLaren decided to switch to a new power unit and started the race at the back of the grid alongside Fittipaldi. 


The Mercedes drivers were on the medium tyres from Q2 while others in the top 10 on the softs. The following drivers outside the top 10 chose the softs - Norris, Latifi, Magnussen and Fittipaldi while Ocon, Albon, Vettel, Giovinazzi, Aitken and Raikkonen opted for the mediums.


Bottas led the field away on the formation lap while Russell was slower off the line. The Briton was still learning about his loaned Mercedes and needed a good start to fend off the challenge from Verstappen. 



The five red lights went out, and it was a good start off the line for both the Mercedes cars. However, it was Russell who got the inside line at turn one and took the lead of the race! Perez and Verstappen were jostling for position, but Verstappen held onto P3. Bottas was slow out of turn two and got swamped by the trio of Verstappen, Perez and Leclerc. The quartet was racing close to each other, and there was drama at turn four. Perez got tagged at the rear by Leclerc, sending him into a spin and breaking the latter's front suspension. Verstappen, who was on the outside, tried to take avoiding action, ending up in the gravel and eventually running out of road. He collided with the barriers, retiring from the race along with Leclerc. Perez was able to continue, but pitted for mediums, rejoining in last. The incident got flagged for investigation, and Leclerc got a three-place grid drop for the next race.


Further down the field, Raikkonen suffered a spin at turn two while Norris had a mega start and was up to 10th, having started P19. 


The Safety Car got deployed to remove the stricken cars and racing didn't resume until lap 7. Russell had a clean restart while Sainz got past Bottas for 2nd, but ran wide, allowing Bottas to retake the position. Raikkonen lost 17th to Perez who then dispatched Fittipaldi and Aitken for 15th a lap later, and Norris overtook Vettel for 9th. Perez continued his charge up the field with an overtake on Giovinazzi for 13th, while Raikkonen got past Fittipaldi for P17 ( lap 9 ).


Russell started pulling away with the fastest lap ( lap 10 ) while Perez relegated Magnussen to 13th. Raikkonen got past Aitken for P16 while Perez was closing in on the battle between Vettel and Albon for 10th. It was job done for Albon on lap 12 with Vettel losing 11th to Perez on the same lap. The Mercedes duo started to pull away from the rest of the field, and Sainz had Ricciardo's company in the battle for third. 


Russell, Bottas, Sainz, Ricciardo, Kvyat, Stroll, Gasly, Ocon, Norris and Albon were the top 10 at the end of lap 16. 


Magnussen got relegated to 15th by Latifi and Giovinazzi while Bottas set the fastest lap of the race. Albon and Perez got past Norris for 9th and 10th respectively, and the Briton pitted immediately after for a set of medium tyres, rejoining in 18th and last. It was 9th for Perez who got past Albon while Russell set the fastest lap of the race. 


Raikkonen pitted for hard tyres on lap 25, but it was a slow stop due to a troublesome left front tyre. Norris got past Fittipaldi for 16th, and the pit stop window was now open for those on a two-stop strategy. Giovinazzi and Magnussen pitted on lap 27 for hards and mediums respectively while Kvyat was the first from the top 10 to pit for a set of mediums. There was a slew of pit stops with Sainz and Gasly switching to the mediums ( lap 29 ) followed by Ricciardo a lap later. The undercut worked for Kvyat who jumped Ricciardo in the round of pitstops while Norris got past Aitken for P12. Vettel, the only Ferrari left in the race, pitted on lap 33 for a set of hard tyres, rejoining in 13th behind Latifi, but immediately overtaking the Canadian. Ricciardo was harrowing Kvyat for P8, but the Russian was able to fend off the challenge and set the fastest lap of the race. 


Russell, Bottas, Stroll, Ocon, Perez, Albon, Sainz, Kvyat, Ricciardo and Gasly were the top 10 at the end of lap 38. 


Ocon pitted on lap 42, switching to the hard tyres and rejoining in 10th. Stroll pitted a lap later, switching to the mediums and emerged out of the pits ahead of Ocon. However, Ocon had his tyres up to operating temperatures and regained track position with the help of DRS. He then went on to set the fastest lap of the race on lap 45 while Russell was nearing his first pit stop and got told to push by the team. Russell pitted from the lead on lap 46, putting on the hard tyres and rejoining in 2nd. He reclaimed the fastest lap time a couple of laps later as he began reducing the gap to his team-mate Bottas who was yet to pit. The Briton reported power issues which got resolved with a settings-change on the dash. 


Perez and Albon were the next to pit for hard tyres, emerging in 9th and 11th with Norris splitting the duo. The stewards issued Albon Black and White Flag for exceeding track limits multiple times ( lap 49 ). Bottas, who had tried to extend his stint on the mediums, finally pitted on lap 50 for hard tyres but had lost time to Russell, now 8 seconds adrift. Mercedes asked Russell to be careful while driving at turns 7 and 8 since it was putting a strain on the front left tyre. Gasly had to pit for the 2nd time on lap 52 for hard tyres, dropping him out of the points. Albon got past Norris for P9 on lap 53 while Kvyat pitted for the hard tyres. Gasly caught up to Vettel and overtook him for P11 on lap 55 just before the Virtual Safety Car got deployed for an incident on track.


It was Latifi who came to a halt at the exit of turn 8 with what seemed to be a mechanical issue. Norris pitted under VSC, switching to the medium tyres while Vettel and Magnussen chose the soft tyres. It was a slow stop for Vettel, the front left tyre getting stuck. Giovinazzi was another driver who ditched his hard tyres for a fresh set of mediums. The Virtual Safety Car period didn't last long, and Sainz and Ricciardo pitted just after green flag racing had resumed, switching to the mediums and hards respectively, and lost time in the process. Perez, who was managing his power unit, had closed in on his team-mate Stroll who made a mistake at turn four allowing the Mexican to take 4th. A lap later, it was Ocon who got bumped out of 3rd by Perez on the pit straight with the help of DRS. Meanwhile, at the front, Bottas was honing in on Russell, and the gap was down to 5.5 seconds. The Finn further reduced the deficit with two blistering laps on his hard tyres. 


The Virtual Safety Car got deployed again due to debris on the track. It was Aitken who had lost his front wing and pitted for a new front wing and soft tyres. The rookie had spun at the final corner and hit the orange barriers, losing his front wing in the process. The dislodged front wing was on the racing line, and there wasn't a gap big enough for the stewards to extricate the debris. The stewards decided to deploy the Safety Car and bunch up the field.



Mercedes called in their drivers for another stop, going in for the "double stack". It was a slightly slow stop for Russell who switched to the mediums, but there was chaos when Bottas drove into the box. The mechanics weren't ready with the tyres, and there was confusion with the tyres to put on; then, the left front brake overheated and caught fire while the tyre gun malfunctioned. Bottas emerged from the pits with the same set of hard tyres that he had pitted on! The Finn's 27 seconds stop had cost him track position to Perez, Ocon and Stroll, and he was down in 5th. The drama didn't end there. Mercedes discovered that they had put the wrong set of tyres on Russell's car. The Briton was driving with the tyres allocated to Bottas! He got the instruction to pit again a lap later, switched to the soft tyres, and rejoined behind Bottas. Russell, who was coasting to victory, now found himself down in 5th, all his hard work undone while Bottas had gone through a lengthy stop without switching to a new set of tyres! Mercedes had lost the initiative. Further down the field, Vettel, Raikkonen and Fittipaldi pitted for the third time, switching to the soft tyres for the final stint in the race.



The lapped cars were allowed to overtake the Safety Car and return on the lead lap, and racing resumed at the end of lap 68. Stroll almost rear-ended Ocon as Perez tried to bunch up the field. It was a great restart by Perez who led the field into turn one while Albon got past Gasly for P9. Russell wasted no time in his quest of reclaiming the top stop, getting past team-mate Bottas at turn eight in a spectacular yet clean overtake. Raikkonen and Magnussen went wheel-to-wheel for 14th, and it was job done for Raikkonen on lap 71. Magnussen got warned with a Black & White flag for exceeding track limits on multiple occasions. 



Russell relegated Stroll to 4th on lap 72 and was into 2nd with a pass on Ocon a lap later. Perez had built a gap of 3.5 seconds to Russell but was on old hard tyres. He wouldn't stand a chance against the charging Briton once he closed up and they wheel-to-wheel. The charge for victory began in full earnest as Russell set the fastest lap of the race on lap 76, bringing the gap down to 2.5 seconds. His team-mate Bottas was going the other way. His hard tyres had fallen off the cliff, and he lost positions to Sainz, Ricciardo, Albon and Kvyat in the space of 2 laps. 



There was more drama on lap 78. Russell had closed the gap to Perez to 2.1 seconds when Mercedes informed him about a puncture on the rear left tyre! Russell had to pit for the 4th time, dropping him down to 15th place! The Briton didn't hold back his exasperation, all his hard work coming to nought. To add insult to injury, the stewards decided to investigate the issue of "incorrect tyres" on Russell's car after the race. 



Perez now led the race with a cushion of 8 seconds from Ocon and Stroll. Russell began his charge through the field, passing Magnussen, Raikkonen, Giovinazzi and Vettel in the space of 2 laps. Bottas, on the other hand, complained about his old tyres being "undrivable", but the team asked him to soldier on. Perez had extended his lead to 10 seconds and continued to pull further away while Norris got past Gasly for 9th ( lap 85 ). A lap later, Russell was back into the points, relegating Gasly to 11th. The final lap had begun, and Perez and Racing Point seemed destined to win their first-ever race. Russell got past Norris for 9th, and that would be the best he would finish with at the end of the day. 



Perez crossed the finish line to win the 2020 Sakhir GP for Racing Point! Ocon came home in 2nd for Renault and Stroll completed a double podium for Racing Point. 4th was the best that Sainz could achieve, having run in the podium positions for the early part of the race with Ricciardo ending up in 5th. Both lost time when they pitted just after the Virtual Safety Car period had ended. Albon was 6th for Red Bull followed by Kvyat in his Alpha Tauri. Bottas and Russell came home in 8th and 9th for Mercedes with Norris taking the final points-scoring position.


Gasly drove hard but ended up in 11th. Vettel was 12th for Ferrari ahead of the Alfa Romeos of Giovinazzi and Raikkonen. Magnussen, Aitken and Fittipaldi were the final classified finishers.



It was a day of contrasting emotions - while Racing Point and Perez were celebrating their wina disconsolate Russell was lying on the grass at the back of the paddock, thinking about what "could have been" had there not been a mix-up in the pit lane with regards to the tyres. 



Russell had driven his heart out, led from the start, controlling the race clinically and yet coming up short. There was no doubt that he would win one day, not just a race or two, but the Championship; but that day would come on another day. Motorsports can be cruel, and some experiences are gut-wrenching. Raikkonen who suffered a fair share of bad luck in his younger days used to quip "these things happen in sport, part and parcel of racing", and this experience would make Russell stronger, mentally. Nevertheless, his performance on the weekend proves how ready he is for the sharp end of the grid. 


Lewis Hamilton's availability for Abu Dhabi hangs in the balance. The reigning World Champion faces a race against time as he tries to recover from COVID-19. If he is unable to fulfil the protocols set by the UAE government, then Russell would remain in the Mercedes seat for the final round of the 2020 season and have another shot at victory. 


Russell deserves to be in a Mercedes, full-time, sooner rather than later. He is worthy of that honour. 



Mercedes got fined 20000 Euros for their mistake with the incorrect tyres on Russell's car. The stewards decided against disqualification ( which is the rule ) and imposed a financial penalty instead. An intercom failure was to blame for the blunder that cost the team another 1-2 finish and Russell a win. Such days are rare for a team like Mercedes, but they are humans at the end of the day. An apology by the team followed shortly after.  



Bottas blew a golden chance of cementing 2nd place in the Drivers' Championship when Verstappen retired from the race. The Finn lacked motivation and looked lacklustre the entire race. He cannot afford such mediocrity if he is to pose a semblance of a challenge to Hamilton in 2021. He needs to step up his performances as the threat of losing his seat to a younger and more talented driver looms large. 



Verstappen would have been in the reckoning for victory but crashed ( no fault of his own ) on the opening lap while trying to take avoiding action. The Dutchman can still claim 2nd in the Championship and will go all out in Abu Dhabi. Albon's 6th place was uninspiring; there were shades of brilliance, but yet not good enough. If he doesn't produce something magical in Abu Dhabi, a sabbatical awaits him. 



The midfield battle has taken another dramatic turn with Racing Point and Renault's haul of points this weekend. McLaren was in damage limitation mode and would need a better outing in Abu Dhabi, needing to outscore the Racing Points by 11 points or more. Renault is still in the hunt for 3rd place, but a 22 points deficit might be too big an ask. Ocon scored the first podium of his F1 career, a stellar drive by the Frenchman who stopped only once during the race. He is getting stronger with each passing weekend, and this augurs well for Renault.



Ferrari blew their chance of a strong finish when Leclerc made contact with Perez on the opening lap leading to the Monegasque's retirement. A three-place grid penalty for Leclerc in Abu Dhabi only compounds matters. Vettel is counting down the days left with Ferrari as his season goes from bad to worse with each passing race. They need to fend off a resurgence from Alpha Tauri, or they would end the season a disappointing 7th. Alfa Romeo's mercurial performances in 2020 remain a mystery while Haas and Williams would be proud of the drives put in by their rookies Fittipaldi and Aitken. Fittipaldi would race again since Grosjean was declared unfit for participation in the season-ender at Abu Dhabi following his horrific crash. Aitken's eligibility is dependent on Hamilton's, but the Briton had a commendable outing in his first Grand Prix.



Perez and Racing Point scored their maiden win in F1. It was also the team's first-ever double podium, and a Mexican driver won again after a gap of 50 years! Perez was last and out of the reckoning at the end of lap 1, but he produced a drive full of character and skill as he made his way through the field, being in the right place at the right time when misfortune hit the Mercedes duo. He has done more than one can ask to warrant a drive in 2021, yet his career remains in limbo. The cries for a top seat grow louder; hopefully, Perez wouldn't have to wait for long. However, he can bask in the glory and the honour of being a Grand Prix winner. Stroll had another strong weekend, taking up the final podium spot, stopping only once like Ocon in the race. 



Racing Point had two eventful weekends; from suffering a Double DNF ( with Stroll getting inverted at the race restart and Perez suffering from an MGU-K failure while running in 3rd ) to scoring their first-ever win and double podium a weekend later. A complete change of fortunes for the Silverstone-based outfit. The team was short on parts to build two race cars, and parts got flown in on Thursday evening, such were the challenges faced by Racing Point! 



The final race of the season at the iconic Yas Marina Circuit beckons. Will we see a young protegee on the top step of the podium or will the seasoned campaigner make a return in time? 



Time will tell! 

2020 Bahrain GP Race Recap : Halo, the Lifesaver & Safety, the Real Winner!

The 2020 F1 Season drew to its conclusion with another triple-header, this time in the Middle-East. The Bahrain International Circuit was the venue for the first of these with the traditional Grand Prix layout. 


The weekend also saw the return of Formula 2, a feeder series lower than F1 featuring contenders like Mick Schumacher, Callum Ilott, Christian Lundgaard, Yuki Tsunoda and Robert Schwartzman. 


Bahrain, the first twilight race of the year, is a power-based circuit, and Mercedes powered cars have dominated races in the past. 

Hamilton and Mercedes were the Champions of 2020, but a lot was at stake, be it for P2 in the Drivers' Championship or 3rd in the Constructors'. 


Bottas hoped to finish the remainder of 2020 on a high and carry the momentum into 2021. Ferrari was back in the fight for 3rd in the Constructors' and could leapfrog Renault with another strong result. A seat at Red Bull in 2021 was still up for grabs, and Albon had another weekend to prove his worthiness. 


How did the teams and drivers fare in the desert? Time for a quick recap of the weekend!



Practice :


Track temperatures were lower than those in April, the usual race month, so teams needed to re-learn and change their setups during the practice sessions.


Pirelli had brought in their 2021 tyre compounds for the teams to test in Practice and give feedback for further development. Running the tyre compound was optional in FP1 but mandatory in FP2. Teams opted to run aero rakes and extra sensors to gather data as well.


Roy Nissany and Kubica, the reserve drivers, got the nod to take the wheels of Williams and Alfa Romeo in FP1. Grosjean suffered a big spin at turn three and damaged his tyres in the process. Turn ten had become a handful for Bottas who suffered from lock-ups throughout the session. Verstappen was another driver to suffer from a spin, but at the final turn. 

Hamilton set the fastest time of FP1, half a second clear of his team-mate Bottas. Perez and Sainz were 3rd and 4th, within a second of Hamilton's time, but on softer tyres. The Alpa Tauri of Gasly was 5th, ahead of the Red Bull duo of Verstappen and Albon. Ocon, Stoll and Ricciardo completed the top 10.

11th and 12th were the best that the works Ferrari could do in FP1 while Kubica produced a commendable effort for Alfa Romeo in 13th. Grosjean and Magnussen were 14th and 15th for Haas, ahead of Giovinazzi in the other Alfa Romeo. Kvyat and Norris had a challenging practice with the Williams completing the rear of the field. 



The start of FP2 began with the teams trying to complete six timed laps ( as per mandate ) with the 2021 Tyre Compounds made by Pirelli. Mercedes had stated that they would utilize the remainder of the year for the development of its 2020 contender and Hamilton and Bottas did more laps than anyone else on the prototype tyres. It wasn't smooth sailing for everyone though with Gasly getting stuck behind Bottas on his flying lap, much to the former's displeasure and Verstappen having a close call with Perez. 

Leclerc had an off-track moment on the final turn but was able to continue. Albon, however, wasn't as fortunate as he ended up losing the rear of the car in the run-off at the final turn, hitting the barriers and smashing up the back of his car. It would be a long night for the mechanics to make the car track-worthy again. The session got Red Flagged to extricate the stricken RB 16. Another stoppage followed shortly after, this time due to the presence of a dog on track! 

Lewis Hamilton was the fastest at the end of FP2, three and a half tenths clear of Verstappen and Bottas. Perez, Ricciardo and Gasly completed the top 6. It was 7th for Norris in his McLaren from Stroll, Kvyat and Albon. 

Ocon was 11th in the other Renault with Sainz splitting the Ferraris of Vettel and Leclerc. Giovinazzi was ahead of Magnussen and team-mate Raikkonen while Latifi finished ahead of Grosjean and Russell to complete the rear of the field. 



The teams needed to gather more data in the final practice session with Red Bull looking closer to the Mercedes in the fight for pole. The midfield battle would intensify on Saturday while Ferrari needed to find more pace to make it into the top 10. 



The final practice session ( FP3 ) before Qualifying saw Verstappen top the timesheets despite a flapping rear wing ( DRS issue ). The Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Bottas set the 2nd and 3rd fastest time respectively, the former suffering an electrical issue towards the end of the session. Albon, in the other Red Bull, was 4th with Sainz and Gasly completing the top 6. Norris, Kvyat and the two Racing Points made it into the top 10, closely followed by the two Renaults. Only two-tenths of a second separated the eight drivers. Giovinazzi split the Ferrari drivers with Russell ahead of the two Haas cars, Raikkonen and Latifi. 

Mercedes and Red Bull seemed to be locked in a battle for the front two rows with Hamilton and Verstappen having the upper hand over their team-mates. The midfield battle was close as ever, and Qualifying would be all about fine-margins. 



Qualifying :


The start of Q1 was sedate with Russell and Verstappen the only drivers on track. Russell aborted his lap after a mistake in the second sector. Everyone was out of the pits with 10 minutes remaining of Q1. Hamilton, Bottas, Verstappen, Gasly, Sainz and Perez were the top 6 at the end of the first runs with Russell, Raikkonen, Grosjean, Magnussen and Latifi in the drop zone. Leclerc was the driver on the cusp of elimination; the Monegasque getting stuck in traffic on his flying lap. Barring Stroll, the rest of the field had set their representative lap times on the soft tyres. 

Verstappen, Gasly, Sainz and Ocon decided to gamble by staying in the pits while the rest of the field went out on their second runs with new soft tyres. The track was evolving, and the lap times improved for everyone. 

There was a change in the top 6 with Stroll and Albon improving to 2nd and 3rd respectively. Russell was into Q2 for Williams for the 9th time in 2020 with the 14th fastest time. Norris scraped through for McLaren in 15th, but Giovinazzi, Raikkonen, Magnussen, Grosjean and Latifi got eliminated.



The soft tyres didn't seem to have the endurance for the race, and except for the Alpha Tauris and Russell ( who stayed in the pits ), everyone else chose the medium tyres for their first runs of Q2. As the drivers began their flying laps, Sainz suffered a spin at turn one which brought out the double yellow flags. The Spaniard was unable to get going again, and the session got Red Flagged with 9 minutes remaining on the clock. McLaren later discovered that the car had suffered a rear brake failure. The session restarted with the Mercedes and Red Bull drivers along with Perez and Norris exiting the pits on medium tyres with the rest choosing to stay put. Hamilton went the quickest with Verstappen splitting the Mercedes followed by Albon, Norris and Perez. Albon had run wide on the final turn and lost a considerable amount of time. It seemed that the Thai driver would have to go out again to sure up his chances of getting into Q3. 

Ocon was the first of the remaining drivers to head out on track for his run in Q2. Ocon set the 7th fastest time, and Red Bull deemed it necessary for Albon to head out again, this time on soft tyres. Norris followed suit. However, the chasing pack weren't able to challenge the times set by them, and the duo aborted their laps to ensure that they start the race on the medium tyres. Ricciardo produced a stellar lap to get into the top 6 while the Ferraris failed to get out of Q2.

The drivers that made it into Q3 were Hamilton, Verstappen, Bottas, Ricciardo, Albon, Norris, Perez, Ocon, Kvyat and Gasly. Those eliminated were Vettel, Leclerc, Stroll, Russell and Sainz.

The biggest shock was Stroll, who became the victim of an error made by the team. A tyre mix-up meant that the Canadian had set his fastest lap on a used set of medium tyres! Nevertheless, he would have a free choice on Sunday and could salvage a result. 



It was time for the final shootout, and everyone was on a fresh set of soft tyres. Hamilton carried his momentum into Q3 and was on provisional pole from Verstappen and Bottas. Perez was 4th with Ocon and Gasly completing the top 6. Albon was 7th in the other Red Bull with Norris getting ahead of Kvyat and Ricciardo ( who made an error ) at the end of the first runs. 

The drivers returned to the pits to refuel, regroup and explore the areas where they could go faster. The battle for pole resumed in the final minutes of Q3. Hamilton and Bottas were setting scorching sector times, but it was Hamilton who got the better of his team-mate again. It was a track record for the Briton with Bottas finishing 2nd, three-tenths adrift. Verstappen could only manage 3rd while Albon improved to 4th completing an all Red Bull 2nd row. It was another stellar lap by Perez which saw him qualify 5th ahead of Ricciardo who pipped his team-mate, Ocon, to 6th by two-thousands of a second! Norris split the two Alpha Tauris of Gasly and Kvyat. 



Hamilton continued his dominance in 2020 with the 98th Pole Position of his career and Mercedes bagging a front-row lockout for the 11th time this season! Bottas had struggled over the past two days and needed to produce something special to emerge victorious on race day. Verstappen did all he could to challenge the Mercedes but was unable to make it to the front row. However, he had the company of his team-mate, and Red Bull could fight on Sunday with both their cars on the sharp end of the grid.

Only four-tenths of a second separated 4th from 10th and Sunday promised to be a monumental duel between the midfield teams.

Perez continued to impress with his performances, and the audition for a 2021 seat continued. The Renault drivers had done their best on Saturday and had a great chance of bringing home a strong result for the team on Sunday. Alpha Tauri was in the thick of the midfield battle and could close the gap to Ferrari in 6th. McLaren and Racing Point should have had both cars in the top 10, but a brake failure and a tyre gaffe cost them dearly. It was a disappointing Saturday for Ferrari, but they seemed to have the pace for the race. Russell brought joy to the Williams by making it into Q2 and hoped to bag his first points of 2020. Sainz's race seemed compromised after the brake failure which had destroyed a medium set of tyres. 

Alfa Romeo and Haas F1 were off the pace the entire weekend, and their drivers seemed destined for a long Sunday evening.



Race :


C2, C3 and C4 were the tyres available for the race, and C4 ( the softest ) seemed to be lacking the endurance of completing a sizeable stint. However, Sainz had no option but to start on the soft tyres due to his brake failure in Qualifying which destroyed a set of mediums. Leclerc, Grosjean and Latifi chose to start on the hard tyres while the rest of the field opted for the mediums.


The race got underway, and it was a clean start for Hamilton. Bottas got bogged down and ended up losing places into the first couple of turns. The Finn was down to 6th with Verstappen, Perez, Albon and Ricciardo getting the better of him. Meanwhile, further down the field, Norris tangled with Gasly and Ocon and damaged his front wing. Stroll and Raikkonen ran wide at turn three while the cars fought for positions in the midfield. However, disaster struck near turn 4. Grosjean's Haas got hit by flying debris from Stroll's car when the Frenchman tried to switch lines aggressively. The switch resulted in the rear right wheel of his car making contact with the left front of Kvyat's. Grosjean was a passenger as he rammed into the guardrails at high speed, the car splitting in half and bursting into flames!


The race got Red Flagged immediately as the marshalls, and the Medical Car gathered at the scene of the accident and tried to put out the flames. Miraculously, Grosjean clambered out of the inferno as the Medical Team of Alan van de Merwe, and Dr Ian Roberts offered their assistance. Replays showed that the "survival cell" was the only thing that survived, and it was the Halo that saved Grosjean from a life-threatening head injury. He lost a boot in the process and was under a lot of duress, so had to be stretchered off. He received treatment at the medical centre before being airlifted for further tests. He received bruises and burns to his hands and knees beside a suspected broken rib. 



The cars returned to the pits, and there was collective applause in the pit lane on seeing Grosjean clamber out of his stricken car. The FIA announced a stoppage of 45 minutes as repair work got carried out. The FIA replaced the damaged guardrails with concrete blocks.



Vettel and Norris' cars underwent repairs under the watchful eyes of the FIA Technical Delegate. The Race Director announced that the session would restart at 18:35 hrs local time, after a stoppage of almost 75 minutes. The grid got reshuffled as the cars exited the pits behind the Safety Car for the formation lap. The reshuffle resulted in Bottas gaining two places before the restart. There was also a change in the tyre choices with Kvyat joining Sainz on the soft tyres and Gasly, Vettel and Magnussen switching to the hard tyres. The rest of the drivers persisted with the mediums.



It was a standing start, and as soon as the five red lights went out, Hamilton was quick off the line and got a clean getaway. Verstappen was slow off the blocks and had to fend off a challenge by Perez into turn 1. Meanwhile, Bottas tried to pressure Perez, but the Mexican held onto third. Ricciardo had a poor start and was down in 9th. The Alfa Romeo team-mates sparred at the restart, and Raikkonen suffered damage to his front wing. The Finn was up to P13 while Giovinazzi lost places and ended up in 17th. Vettel was unhappy with Leclerc for not honouring the pre-race agreement, complaining about the lack of racing room from his team-mate. 


The drivers had not completed a full lap, and the Safety Car got deployed! Stroll's Racing Point was upside down and fortunately, the Canadian was ok and crawled out of his car. Replays showed that Kvyat had tried to make an overtake, but Stroll rapidly shut the door on him, which resulted in the coming together. The incident got investigated by the stewards, and Kvyat incurred a 10 seconds time penalty. Vettel had to take avoiding action and slammed on the brakes, getting relegated to 15th in the process. Magnussen ended up hitting Vettel from behind which damaged his Haas' front wing.


Bottas' race got worse when Mercedes informed him about a slow puncture which forced him to pit on lap 5. He rejoined in 16th on the hard tyres. Magnussen pitted for a new front wing and hard tyres, rejoining in 18th and last ( lap 7 ). 


The Safety Car returned to pits at the end of lap 8, and Hamilton made another flawless start. There was a lot of racing happening behind him with Leclerc challenging Ocon for 6th, but the Frenchman put up a stoic defence. Russell got past Latifi for 13th while Sainz got his soft tyres up to temperature quickly, overtaking Ricciardo for 8th. Russell then relegated Raikkonen to 13th while Hamilton started to pull away from Verstappen at the front.  


DRS got enabled on lap 11, and Leclerc lost two positions on lap 12 to Sainz and Ricciardo. Vettel, in the other Ferrari, also went backwards with Bottas, Giovinazzi and Magnussen relegating him to 18th. Vettel communicated to the team that the car felt undrivable while Leclerc lost 9th to Gasly on lap 13. It was a race of recovery for Bottas who continued his charge up the field with an overtake on Latifi for 14th, and compatriot Raikkonen the next target. Despite a damaged front wing which was sparking on the straights, Raikkonen was able to hold off Bottas until his pit stop on lap 18. Ricciardo pitted for the hard tyres ( lap 17 ), rejoining in 18th and last. Ocon, Kvyat and Raikkonen followed suit a lap later, with Kvyat serving his ten seconds during the pit stop and Raikkonen getting a front wing change. Ocon switched to the mediums while Kvyat and Raikkonen emerged with new hard tyres. 


Ocon overtook Vettel for 14th on lap 19 while Norris switched to the medium tyres, rejoining in 10th. Hamilton and Albon also switched to the medium tyres after pitting on lap 20, rejoining in 3rd and 7th respectively. The Renault drivers were recovering the positions lost after their pit stops with Ocon getting past Magnussen and Ricciardo overtaking Giovinazzi and Latifi. Verstappen relinquished the lead on lap 21 when he pitted for the hard tyres with Perez doing likewise, rejoining in 5th. There were more pit stops on lap 21 with Russell and Giovinazzi getting a new set of hard tyres and Vettel switching to the mediums. 


Sainz had done a 22 laps stint on the soft tyres, a commendable job with regards to prolonging the life of the C4 compound. He switched to the medium tyres, rejoining in 11th behind the Renault duo. Albon got past Leclerc for 5th while Latifi pitted for medium tyres, rejoining last. Verstappen set the fastest lap of the race, reducing the gap to Hamilton to 4.5 seconds as he tried to go aggressive with his strategy ( lap 23 ). 


Gasly ( 3rd ) and Leclerc ( 6th ) were the only drivers yet to pit, and the duo was losing a lot of time. Gasly lost two places to Perez and Albon in the space of two laps while Leclerc switched to the hard tyres, rejoining in 12th. Norris overtook Bottas for 6th on lap 25 while Leclerc overtook Magnussen for 11th. Gasly finally pitted on lap 27, followed by Bottas switching to the hards and medium tyres respectively. 


Renault was contemplating a position swap between Ricciardo and Ocon when Sainz relegated Ricciardo to 7th and Ocon to 6th. Bottas, who rejoined in 14th, got past Kvyat, Russell and Magnussen and was up to 11th. Raikkonen had floor damage, and Alfa Romeo performed a position swap with Giovinazzi ( lap 29 )while Renault did the same with Ricciardo and Ocon ( lap 30 ). Vettel overtook Raikkonen for 15th while Bottas got back into the points with a pass on Leclerc. 


Hamilton, Verstappen, Perez, Albon, Norris, Sainz, Ricciardo, Ocon, Gasly and Bottas were the top 10 on lap 34.


Verstappen, Albon and Kvyat pitted for hard tyres on lap 35, but a long stop for Verstappen hurt his strategy. Further down the field, Ocon pitted as well rejoining in 12th. Hamilton pitted a lap later, switched to the hards and extended his lead at the front. Meanwhile, Ocon got past Russell for 11th. The window for the second round of pit stops had begun with Perez and Ricciardo getting new hard tyres, and rejoining in 5th and 11th respectively. Unfortunately for Ricciardo, the undercut allowed Ocon to get past him, and the Australian had to complete an overtake on track to reclaim track position. Sainz lost 4th to Perez while Norris and Bottas pitted for the hard tyres. Albon wasted no time in relegating Sainz to 5th on lap 39, and the latter peeled into the pits for his final stop of the day. 


Further down the field, Russell and Vettel pitted for the medium and hard tyres, respectively ( lap 41 ). Leclerc, who was due for a stop, tried to fend off a challenge by Sainz but was unable to do so, losing 7th in the process and pitting immediately after for hard tyres. He got past Giovinazzi for 11th on lap 43. Magnussen was the driver going backwards and lost three places to Vettel, Latifi and Raikkonen while Norris got past Gasly for 5th. 


Verstappen pitted again on lap 47, this time for mediums. The Dutchman had a free pit stop and intended to bag the point for the fastest lap. Sainz was closing the gap to Gasly in the battle for 6th while Kvyat got past Giovinazzi for 12th and Bottas overtook Ocon for 9th. Verstappen set the fastest lap of the race on lap 49, bagging the extra point that comes with it. Gasly was losing traction out of the corners due to his worn-out tyres. The Frenchman had pitted only once, and the team wanted him to go till the end. He asked for more engine power to defend from Sainz who had closed up to his gearbox, but Gasly's defence was shortlived as Sainz got past for 6th on lap 52. 


The field was a bit spread out after that, and the only real battle was for 8th between Ricciardo and Bottas. However, disaster struck Perez on lap 54. The Racing Point driver had smoke billowing out of the back of his car, but he kept driving. Eventually, the engine gave up, and he got forced to pull to the side of the track, the rear of his car catching fire. The Safety Car got deployed as a result, and Albon got promoted to 3rd! The marshalls tried to put out the flames, and one of them ran across the track just ahead of Norris. It was heartbreak for Racing Point which suffered a double DNF, and Team Principal Otmar Szafnauer cutting a solitary figure on the pit wall. 


Mercedes informed Bottas of a "possible rear right puncture while Magnussen and Giovinazzi pitted for the soft tyres. 


Racing didn't resume, and the Safety Car peeled into the pits as Hamilton took the Chequered Flag and the 98th win of his career. Verstappen and Albon were 2nd and 3rd for Red Bull, the team completing a double podium for the first time since the Japanese GP in 2017. Norris and Sainz were 4th & 5th for McLaren followed by Gasly who continued to impress in his Alpha Tauri. P7 was the best that Ricciardo could achieve, but managed to hold off a charge from Bottas. Ocon and Leclerc bagged the final points-scoring positions. 


Kvyat and Russell finished just outside the points, the latter yet to score points in 2020. Vettel was 13th in the other Ferrari followed by Latifi and Raikkonen who was able to jump Giovinazzi and Magnussen due to their pit stops under the Safety Car.




Hamilton had won for the 4th time in Bahrain and remained in top gear going into the final two rounds of the season. Debris got lodged into Bottas' car resulting in a performance loss, and the Finn has been a victim of a lot of misfortune. He, however, remains 2nd in the Championship.  Verstappen pushed hard, but P2 was the best that he could achieve along with Albon, who inherited P3  from Perez's retirement. McLaren would be ecstatic with the result they achieved; Norris and Sainz were flawless, and the team had scored a big haul of points against their midfield rivals. Alpha Tauri outscored Ferrari, with Gasly scoring more points than Leclerc. Kvyat, in the sister car, expressed his displeasure with the penalty dished out to him. The uncertainty and late calls by cost Renault a better result, but "something is better than nothing" as the Enstone-based outfit reduces the deficit to Racing Point to 10 points. It was heartbreak for Racing Point who were so near yet so far with Perez's retirement while running in 3rd, and Stroll getting taken out at the start of the race by Kvyat. This result could prove pivotal in the fight for 3rd as McLaren surged past them and now hold a 17 point lead. 


Ferrari, a team that has enjoyed much success in Bahrain could only bag a point, a humbling experience for the most successful team on the grid. Vettel's travails with the 2020 car continued as the German failed to get past the Williams of Russell. Williams showed an improvement, but points still eluded them. Alfa Romeo was off the pace the entire weekend while Haas would have had Grosjean's crash in the back of their minds the whole race.



Everyone was relieved to see Grosjean escape with bruises and burns and no internal damage ( as per the latest update ) in what was a horrific crash. He was able to climb out of the fiery wreckage, and this was a testament to the levels of safety the sport had achieved. The incidents involving Stroll and Perez were equally heart-stopping. The Halo had saved Grosjean from a life-threatening crash, and the timely intervention by the marshalls and the FIA Medical Delegates saved him from more grievous injuries. 


The safety teams and Grosjean himself were the heroes and the real victors at the end of the day!



Racing resumes in less than a week at the same venue, on a new layout along the "Outer Loop". Hopefully, the FIA would have enough time to assess and deploy even better safety measures.