A Mercedes gift helps Perez claim maiden win

Date published: December 6 2020

Sergio Perez

Sergio Perez went from last on the first lap to first at the last lap as he claimed his maiden Formula 1 race win at the Sakhir Grand Prix.

The Racing Point driver, who is without a 2021 race seat, was gifted the win by a botched double-stack pit stop from Mercedes that cost George Russell what looked like a certain victory.

Russell’s woes went from bad to worse as he suffered a late puncture while chasing down Perez for the win. He finished P9, at least scoring his first points. He also got the fastest lap point.

Formula 1 embraced a new world at the Sakhir circuit on Sunday night, 87 laps of a 3.5km circuit with two rookies, Pietro Fittipaldi and Jack Aitken, in action and George Russell racing for Mercedes and anticipating his first points, if not podium, or even win.

The British racer started P2 with his team-mate Valtteri Bottas on pole and Max Verstappen, on the soft tyres to Mercedes’ mediums, third on the grid. Fittipaldi and Lando Norris were at the very back of the grid as both had engine penalties.

Russell made a flying start to lead his first grand prix lap while Bottas had a wiggle that opened the door to Verstappen and Sergio Perez.

Charles Leclerc tried to take advantage of a massive slipstream but instead ended up nose first in the barrier along with Verstappen. Perez, carrying some of the blame along with Leclerc, was P18 and into the pits for fresh tyres. There was also drama further back with Kimi Raikkonen spinning his Alfa Romeo.

The race went green at the end of lap 6 with Russell leading ahead of Bottas with Carlos Sainz up to third and looking to attack Bottas, which he did into Turn 1 only to run off the track at the very next corner and hand P2 back to Bottas. Daniel Ricciardo was running fourth ahead of Daniil Kvyat, Lance Stroll, Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon.

Sebastian Vettel and Norris were ninth and tenth, making that tenth and ninth with Norris up the inside of Vettel for the position. Vettel was then passed by Albon but almost immediately retook it into Turn 1. Albon didn’t give up, taking P10 off Vettel with Perez following him through.

While Russell built up a two second lead over his team-mate, Bottas locked up as he tried perhaps to push too hard. That one, not his first of the night, would have left him with a bit of a flat spot.

20 races in and Norris’ softs were beginning to wear, leaving the door open for Albon and Perez to overtake the McLaren driver, both the Red Bull and the Racing Point on the medium tyres. Norris pitted, putting on a set of the mediums. Perez then made short work of Albon.

At the front Russell put in a fastest lap time and then Bottas took it. Russell had a lap time deleted for exceeding limits and then Bottas had the same. Russell retook fastest lap.

Just behind them Sainz pitted from third, with Kvyat, Gasly and Ricciardo all stopping in the space of a few laps. Ricciardo lost a position to Kvyat in the process as he was called in a few seconds too late, already passing the line when he was told to pit. Ocon was the next in followed by Stroll with Racing Point reacting to the Renault driver’s stop. The early pit stop giving Ocon the advantage as his warmer tyres allowed him to attack Stroll as the Canadian left the pits.

Russell, leading the race by three seconds ahead of Bottas, was told to “keep extending while there is traffic in our pit window”. Bottas also stayed out as too did Albon. Russell’s next message was to “push as it won’t be long now”. Mercedes stopped Russell, 2.4s, putting on the hard tyres. He came out P2 behind Bottas who was yet to stop. On his first lap out of the pits Russell reported “no power” and was told to change power settings.

Albon was the next to stop with Bottas still staying out. Perez, who pitted on the very first lap of the race, came in for his second stop. Albon was the first to see the black and white for exceeding track limits. And Bottas pitted from the lead, stationary for 2.4s, also onto the hards and he came out seven seconds behind Russell having lost four by staying out for a few extra laps.

Russell’s power issues continued but it was worse for his normal team-mate at Williams, Nicholas Latifi. He came to a halt on the side of the track bringing out the Virtual Safety Car to allow the marshals to clear the car. Norris, Vettel, Antonio Giovinazzi, Kevin Magnussen, Aitken, Raikkonen and Fittipaldi all pitted with Sainz and Ricciardo both stopping as it ended. Bad timing.

As Bottas cut Russell’s lead to 5.5s, Perez passed Stroll and then Ocon to run third, chasing his second podium in three races. Albon was running P6 ahead of Sainz and Ricciardo, who had ill-timed pit stops, Kvyat and Gasly.

The VSC came out for the second time as Aitken lost his front wing, the British rookie pitting for a new one after spinning on the exit of the final corner and clipping the barrier. To add to his woes he made a slow get away. With no safe gap for a marshal, the Safety Car came out. Mercedes jumped with Russell stopping immediately and Bottas double-stacking. A mistake with the tyres meant he was stationary for 27s, his brakes caught fire and the mechanics put his old tyres back on his car.

It turned out the team had to do that they had botched Russell’s stop, sending him out on a set of his tyres but with some of Bottas’ also in the mix. Russell had to pit again, falling to P5.

The top ten lined up for the restart on lap 69 with Perez leading ahead of Ocon, Stroll, Bottas, Russell, Sainz, Ricciardo, Kvyat, Gasly and Albon. Perez took off at the restart while Stroll tried to drive into the back of Ocon and Russell looked left and right of Bottas.

A lap later and Russell got the line on Bottas and kept his nerve to take fourth off the Finnish racer. Russell’s next move was on Stroll, putting the Brit onto the podium. He immediately closed in on Ocon and passed him into Turn 4 to run second. He was 3.4s behind race leader Perez with 13 to go, 2.2s with 10 to go. Russell’s chances of chasing down Perez were undone by a puncture. He came out in 14th place.

Russell’s misfortune handed Perez a clear run to the chequered flag, the Mexican racer taking his first-ever race victory – and on what could be his penultimate grand prix. It was Perez’s first win in 190 starts.

Ocon was second with Stroll third.

Sainz was fourth ahead of Ricciardo, Albon, Kvyat and Bottas, Russell and Norris completed the top ten.

Result

1 Sergio Perez Racing Point
2 Esteban Ocon Renault 10.546s
3 Lance Stroll Racing Point 11.869s
4 Carlos Sainz McLaren 12.580s
5 Daniel Ricciardo Renault 13.330s
6 Alex Albon Red Bull 13.842s
7 Daniil Kvyat AlphaTauri 14.534s
8 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 15.389s
9 George Russell Mercedes 18.556s
10 Lando Norris McLaren 19.541s
11 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri 20.527s
12 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Racing 24.111s
13 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 22.611s
14 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo Racing 26.153s
15 Kevin Magnussen1 Haas 32.370s
16 Jack Aitken Williams 33.674s
17 Pietro Fittipaldi Haas 36.858s

Did not finish

Nicholas Latifi Racing Point
Max Verstappen Red Bull lap 1 crash
Charles Leclerc Ferrari lap 1 crash

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