F1 – Bahrain GP – Race

Marhabaan, MiniFans! His sport has been synonyms with night races for a while now and we’re finally back to one of them. In a turn of events away from what we qualify as normal, all of the top 10 will be starting with medium tyres rather than just a couple scattered ones. Along with it, we have Carlos Sainz, one of the drivers fighting it out for the “best of the rest” title, starting from fifteenth while his rivals mostly made it into Q3. On paper, Renault seem to be the best positioned, with both drivers joined at the hip on the grid, but when has the midfield finished in the exact same places they started in?

Sainz, completely out of position, went rogue and decided on soft tyres to try and make up as many places as possible during the first laps, with the caveat of needing to care for them at the same time. Meanwhile, Ferrari, in eleventh and twelfth, chose the opposite path and gave hards to Leclerc to try and delay his pit stop. The start reminded us of one from recent races, with Bottas messing up and both Verstappen and Pérez taking advantage of it. Just a few corners later, when the first lap wasn’t even half over, Grosjean’s car could be seen swerving off, due to a collision with Kvyat, and catching on a huge ball of fire. A terrified confusion settled over the paddock for as long as it took for the FIA to show that Grosjean was okay, bar a few minor burns and a suspected broken rib that would need to be tended to. When the images of the crash were deemed to be alright to be aired, a collective gasp was almost heard at the strangeness of the situation and the realization that a miracle had just been witnessed. Half of the Haas had gone through the metal barrier, showing how we had seen Grosjean jumping over it and making everyone thank the existence of the halo. Aside from slightly visible confusion and grogginess, as well as a missing boot, the French driver had made it out in once piece.

Once it was settled that Grosjean was mostly okay, having gotten out of the wreck mostly on his own and soon being helped by the doctors from the medical car, the fence was fixed and an at least 45-minute delay announced. Almost an hour and a half later, drivers lined up on the grid. The 2020 season is one where we’ve gotten used to restarts, but almost every single one of them has been different. This time, with the weirdness of the red flag, drivers had to get in their correct place during the formation lap. Luckily for them, unlike during a “normal” start, drivers were allowed to communicate with their teams, making it easy for them to find their place. They settled in their new spots and the lights were off for the second time only for the race to be halted once again, due to a collision involving Kvyat and Stroll that ended up with the latter’s car upside down. Quickly reassuring his team that he was okay, the safety car was deployed while the track was cleaned up. The second restart was a rolling one, rather than standing, allowing for cars to be slightly less crowded. For the first time in nine laps, a full was could be completed. Sainz, still on softs, albeit a new set, started making his way up the pack while sparks lit up the Bahrain night.

In lap 12, the DRS was finally allowed, making the battle for seventh among Sainz, Ricciardo and Leclerc heat up. Bottas, who had lost many places due to needing to pit to fix a puncture, was having many problems to overtake cars far slower than his own, while Vettel complained to his team about the car being undriveable. Out of the cars with no visible problems, Ricciardo was the first one to pit, prompting the first wave of stops, and change to hard tyres, being sent to last place. Renault looked for two different strategies and gave mediums to Ocon, while more cars followed in their footsteps. The two very distinctive strategies – a two-stopper and a one-stopper that relied on hards lasting through to the end – became a point of contention, some teams gambling it all on one and others dividing them between both their cars.

Almost halfway through the race, Bottas finally managed to overtake Russell, something of a small feat in and of itself, seeing as he was having massive problems to do so. In the battle for top dogs of the midfield, Pérez was still settled in third with a little safety cushion over Albon, while both McLaren and Renault were on completely opposite sides of the fence. While McLaren clearly had the upper hand, with Sainz’s bet on softs paying off greatly to position him behind his teammate after having overtaken both Renaults quite easily. The French team, however, looked like a rookie team, not swapping their drivers’ positions when both were on different tyres and tyre age to give Ricciardo a chance to escape until it was too late and Sainz was out of their grasp. A few pit stops later and an overtake from Ricciardo to Ocon after said stop in boxes, the race settled once again with less than twenty laps to go.

It wasn’t hard to guess who the podium finishers would be, unless the end of the world came down onto the track. And so it did, with three laps to go. Pérez’s engine blew up when he was third, forcing a safety car and saving both Gasly and Ricciardo. The former’s tyres were on their last legs, while the latter’s car seemed to have issues that wouldn’t have allowed him to finish otherwise. Hamilton’s race, all on his own for basically every lap, was immaculate. Verstappen would eventually desist on trying to fight for the win in favour of scoring the fastest lap and the point that it grants, while Bottas finished his race with a punctured rear tyre.

The race wasn’t the best one of the year, but it did have Sainz’s comeback from fifteenth into fifth and started to settle the midfilders’ championship positions. However, it had everyone on the edge of their seats, albeit not for the reason we like. We hope for nail biting overtakes and fights to the finish line, for drivers to look for the limit and either run along it or yield to it. Today, the race consisted of one of those terrifying moments, which are thankfully uncommon due to all the security measures implemented along the history of the sport. Every person watching let out a sigh of relief when they were told that Grosjean, whose last image broadcasted had been of his car engulfed in a flaming ball, was alive and conscious. It’s one of those races where it doesn’t really matter who won or who overtook who in the championship leaderboard. It’s one of those where all that matters is that everyone is okay.