F1 – Sakhir GP – Race

Marhabaan, MiniFans! This weekend we’ve seen a few different bits and bobs from usual: No Hamilton on the grid, Russell called in to fit in a seat a bit small for him, two new drivers on the grid and a circuit more similar to an oval than what we’re used to in Formula 1, with a lap time of under a minute. Looking at statistics, Mercedes is set to win, which could mean Russell’s first podium or even victory, but if there’s something we’ve learnt this year is that it’s not as crystal clear as it’s been in other occasions.

The start was great by George Russell who, despite starting on the dirty side of the straight, managed to overtake his teammate and settle in first. It all seemed like a fairytale until a car spun in almost the same spot where Grosjean had his accident last week. Once it was clear there weren’t any crashes, the attention shifted to Leclerc, Pérez and Verstappen. Leclerc, in an attempt at overtaking, overshot, tried to brake by blocking his tyres and crashed into Pérez, who was already turning into turn 4. This incident caught Verstappen by surprise and, in an attempt of avoiding crashing into them, went wide and crashed into the barriers. Both him and Leclerc were out of the race, but Pérez could limp back to boxes for fresh tyres and a quick assessment of damages while a safety car was deployed. Meanwhile, Norris had managed to get into the points from his 19th place on the grid, thanks to both a great start and his choice of soft tyres.

The restart saw Sainz trying and managing to overtake Bottas on the straight but losing it on one of the following corners by leaving the track. Once told via radio that his battle wasn’t with Bottas, as Ricciardo was just the first of a line of cars getting ready to use the DRS, he buckled in for a long race in which third place was not a mere legend anymore for midfielders. Pérez was back on the brink of points, while Albon complained of lack of straight speed. The battle for top midfielder was very close, as up to five drivers, from Sainz to Gasly, were separated by less than three seconds, but overtakes weren’t really seen within the group. The first stop for tyres that didn’t involve a previous incident was by Norris, who got rid of his red tyres in favour of mediums.

Drivers at the back started to make their pit stops as well, opening up spaces for the cars at the front in a track with very tight spaces to come out into clean air. Kvyat pitted first, trying for an undercut that he’d eventually achieve thanks to Renault calling Ricciardo in one lap too late. Sainz did stop when he was supposed to and kept his status as best of the rest, almost following Vettel into the pit late due to wanting as much of a tow as possible to escape from Kvyat. The race quietly settles down, waiting to see whether anyone would dare to do a one-stop strategy, as Mercedes, among others, seemed as if they were serious contenders for it. Ocon was the first of the ones clearly going for one stop that would exchange his tyres, choosing hards, and managing an undercut on Stroll.

Russell’s first stop with Mercedes was good, but a bit of a panic struck when he talked about power on the radio. Bono, Hamilton’s seasoned racing engineer, calmly walked him through the steps to follow and was soon speeding fully again. Once Bottas pitted as well, the order was restored and first place went back to the driver stepping in for Hamilton. However, the comments on power from Russell didn’t stop, this time telling his team that it was the straights giving him problems. A very quick virtual safety car, as in a half a lap long safety car, due to Latifi retiring, wasn’t enough for Sainz and Ricciardo to gain too much advantage over Kvyat, who had stopped again,

It was a safety car caused by Aitken that turned the race completely upside down for Mercedes, Bottas and Russell. Atiken’s front wing was left of the track after he crashed into the barrier at the exit of the last corner, managing to get into boxes by himself. Mercedes tried the double pit stop that Red Bull has always excelled at, but failed miserably at it. Russell got fitted with at least one tyre that didn’t belong to the set they had chosen for him and got released before they had realised it in the chaos. It was when they went to put tyres onto Bottas that they saw they were one tyre short. The Finnish driver had to leave wearing the same set of hard tyres that he had come in with. Mercedes contacted Russell and had him do one more trip through the pit lane to fix their mistake, sending him back out behind Bottas

The second restart was very clean, unless we count the great tyre blocking that Stroll needed to do in order not to either overtake or collide into Ocon. Russell, in fifth and behind his teammate, took no time in overtaking him in pursuit of a win that had been taken away from him. Slowly but steadily, Russell overtook both Stroll and Ocon, taking tenth by tenth away from Pérez. One last cry on the radio about a puncture broke out into the wild, making Russell drop down the timing tower as he was called in for one last tyre change for softs. He wouldn’t give up and rather decided to fight until the end to finish behind Bottas and into the points for the first time in his career. Pérez, who had been dead last after the incident in his first lap, scored a win very treasured by a driver who is still seatless for next year, being accompanied by his teammate and Ocon.

A new winner was expected throughout the weekend, specially seeing how the free practices and qualifying had gone like. However, it wasn’t a guy from Mexico, but rather a British guy, called in at two in the morning to step in for Lewis Hamilton. Russell did everything right. He got second on Saturday, only beaten by a teammate who’s more experienced with the car and excels at qualifying. On Sunday, he did a great start, overtaking Bottas and managing to stay in front until the team did a horrendous mistake they’re not too well known for. For the icing on the cake, he got a puncture that made his quest even for points almost impossible, but he pulled through. Even if the result doesn’t show it, Russell proved who the future of Mercedes is.