Sergio Perez wins Sakhir Grand Prix, Racing Point takes P1 and P3 on the podium

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Racing Point driver Sergio Perez of Mexico celebrates after he won the Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix in Sakhir, Bahrain, Sunday, Dec.6, 2020. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili, Pool)

The running of the Sakhir Grand Prix at the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir, Bahrain saw lots of action and lots of different faces on the circuit. With Lewis Hamilton sitting the race out due to a COVID-19 positive test, Williams driver was able to take control of Hamilton’s Mercedes. Formula 2 driver Jack Aitken took the seat at Williams and Pietro Fittipaldi took the open seat at Haas as Romain Grosjean retired from the season to tend to his injuries from the Bahrain Grand Prix. After 189 starts in Formula 1, this was Racing Point driver Sergio Perez’s first even win, with Renault’s Esteban Ocon taking second and Racing Point’s Lance Stroll rounding out the podium.

The qualifying round saw Mercedes regular Valtteri Bottas take pole position and new teammate George Russel starting second after losing to Bottas in qualifying by only 0.027 seconds. The start of the race was incredibly chaotic right from the start, with top field drivers Max Verstappen from Redbull and Ferrari’s Charles LeClerc being sent into a wall after a collision before the end of the first lap. Perez was also impacted but was able to get into the pit lane for a tire swap and return to the field for the second green light. The safety car was on the field until lap seven which let Russell build an easy lead of the field, flanked by Bottas and Carlos Sainz Jr. from McLaren.

George Russell had a very impressive start, especially considering that he had very little time in the car and had to ask his pit crew how to use the steering wheel developed by Mercedes throughout the race. After a pitstop on lap 46, Russell started reporting power unit problems from his car, but the issue ended up being caused by his unfamiliarity with the wheel’s controls which required him to reset the unit’s power setting to fix.

A virtual safety car was required on lap 55 after Williams driver Nicholas Latifi was forced to park on the side of the track after experiencing technical issues. A second virtual safety car came out on lap 62 after Jack Aitken had his front wing broken off on the track after losing control and hitting the front of his car against a barrier.

After the restart, Russell drove extraordinarily well, moving him from fifth to fourth, and he built only a 3.5 second gap to the leader. Russell set several fastest laps, which looked like it was building toward Russell taking first place. This shot at a podium was cut short for Russell after a rear tire puncture forced him into the pitlane for a tire change. After the last lap, Russell was only able to move himself up to ninth place.

Mercedes was given a penalty and forced to pay €20,000 by the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile because of a tire mix-up during one of Russell’s pit stops. Some of Bottas’ tires were put onto Russell’s car, which is a violation of a rule under the Control of Tires regulations set by the FIA. The violation in question concerns “The use of tires without appropriate identification may result in a grid position penalty or disqualification from the race”. There were fears that Russell would be disqualified from the race and lose his first points of the season, but the fine was the only punishment given to the team.

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