until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Formula 1

The winners and losers from F1’s Sakhir Grand Prix

by Glenn Freeman
8 min read

There were major talking points everywhere you looked on Sunday evening as Formula 1 took to the quirky Bahrain Outer circuit for the Sakhir Grand Prix.

From Sergio Perez’s unlikely charge from the back of the field to a long-awaited maiden victory, to George Russell’s stunning debut for Mercedes, and F1’s dominant title-winning team dropping the ball (to use softer language than Toto Wolff did after the race) – the headline moments were just the tip of the iceberg.

Here we pick out the obvious and not-so-obvious storylines that left some leaving Bahrain with their heads held high, and others wishing the ground would swallow them up.



George Russell Mercedes F1 2020 Sakhir GP

There’s an argument to be made that George Russell is actually the biggest loser of the day: his maiden Formula 1 victory in his surprise race debut for Mercedes achingly slipping through his fingers just laps from the end as a result of a slow puncture.

But it would be contrary to make that argument with any seriousness – Russell undoubtedly won the long-game today and bested Valtteri Bottas on pure merit. His outside pass on Bottas was just the cherry on top of what had already been a stellar weekend.

Dec 07 : Sakhir Grand Prix review

Russell was always expected to get a Mercedes seat at some point, probably when Lewis Hamilton retires or when Mercedes finally loses faith in Bottas. The latter seems more likely now.

There aren’t any immediate trophies for winning the long game, but you can’t bet against there being lots of silverware for Russell in the not-too-distant future.


Sergio Perez Racing Point F1 2020 wins Sakhir GP

A speechless Sergio Perez sat atop the podium was a heartwarming sight to round off a chaotic fortnight of F1 activity in Bahrain.

There’s no disputing that a victory has been a long time coming for Perez and that Sunday’s win is a complete turnaround from last week, where a blown engine put him out of podium contention moments before the end.

It seems unthinkable that next week’s Abu Dhabi finale is set to be Perez’s F1 swansong – at least for now – but it’s quite the sign-off for a driver who’s always been just on the edge of something more.

Of course, in the context of Alex Albon’s miserable weekend, Perez might also be about to be victorious in the fight for the second Red Bull seat too.


Daniil Kvyat Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri F1 2020 Sakhir GP

Seventh is only Kvyat’s equal-second-best finish of 2020 (he was fourth at Imola). But as a statement performance, this was a nice reminder of what he can do at his best – on the weekend when Yuki Tsunoda’s superlicence-clinching Formula 2 results effectively knocked Kvyat off the 2021 F1 grid.

Kvyat had the edge on AlphaTauri team-mate Pierre Gasly all weekend, and that’s not been a common occurrence in 2020. And in the early part of the race, before it became fully clear that two stops were not the way to go, Kvyat was in the thick of what appeared to be a podium fight with Carlos Sainz Jr and Daniel Ricciardo. Again, not a situation we’ve seen Kvyat in for a long while.

That it only added up to seventh in the end was more to do with race circumstances than anything Kvyat did wrong. If this was the penultimate F1 race of his career, it would stand as a very respectable farewell.


Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo F1 2020 Sakhir GP

Class C was a bit easier to win this weekend with inexperienced new faces in two of the six cars, but that doesn’t take too much away from Antonio Giovinazzi’s performance in being its benchmark.

He had to get back past Kevin Magnussen on track after a strong first lap from the Haas driver, and was behind Nicholas Latifi when the Williams expired.

But finishing just 1.5s behind the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel and ahead of his Alfa Romeo team-mate Kimi Raikkonen and Magnussen gives Giovinazzi plenty to be proud of.


Esteban Ocon Renault F1 2020 Sakhir GP podium

We said before the weekend that Ocon was one of the people put under big pressure by Hamilton’s absence. He’s still part of the Mercedes family for the long term, and couldn’t afford to spend the Sakhir GP being hammered by Daniel Ricciardo again if fellow Merc young gun Russell was going to star in Hamilton’s car.

In the end, Ocon got the far better result from the race… That wasn’t entirely representative, but this was still a fine drive. His one-stop strategy helped him overshadow two-stopper Ricciardo, and he put a great move on Lance Stroll to secure what briefly looked like it would be third, then fourth, but ultimately turned out to be a hugely-satisfying second.

Could he have made it harder for eventual winner Perez to pass him, though…?


Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Sakhir Grand Prix Race Day Sakhir, Bahrain

An obvious winner in that it literally won the race (and came third).

But perhaps the most significant element is that the whopping 40-point score from today thrust Racing Point back into the third place in the constructors’ championship that its disaster a week ago seemed to have handed to McLaren.

Given the whole ‘Pink Mercedes’ thing, you could argue that for Racing Point to be anywhere lower than third at the end of this year would constitute embarrassing underachievement.

And it’s certainly made much heavier weather of getting that position than it should, as McLaren driver Carlos Sainz Jr pointed out after the race.

History won’t really care how Racing Point got to third though, and neither will F1 when it writes the prize money cheque. And with a 10-point cushion over McLaren and 22 over Renault now, sealing the spot in the finale looks straightforward.



Valtteri Bottas Mercedes F1 2020 interview Sakhir GP

Valtteri Bottas failing to win a race in Lewis Hamilton’s absence isn’t the main reason he features here.

From the moment the red lights went out he was outclassed by George Russell, whose debut weekend with Mercedes has surely turned a likely 2022 drive in place of Bottas into a certainty.

So Bottas leaves Bahrain with much more to chew over than just a lost win. He’s got to get his head straight to take on either a returning Hamilton or a fired-up Russell next week, and then go into the winter working out how to prepare for a season everyone now expects to be his last with the best team on the grid.


Christian Horner Alex Albon Red Bull F1 2020 Sakhir GP

There’s pain everywhere you look for Red Bull after this race. Max Verstappen’s best shot of adding another 2020 victory ended in the barriers after four corners, and his fury as he got out of the car and booted the tyre wall was justified.

But with Verstappen and later the two Mercedes cars getting taken out of contention, the driver whose job is to at the very least pick up the scraps left on the table by any of those three cars wasn’t anywhere to be seen.

It was unfortunate for Alex Albon and Red Bull that he couldn’t use the fortunate podium finish of a week ago as a launchpad to something more. Instead he followed it up with a Q2 exit on Saturday and a drab race to sixth behind a bunch of midfield cars.

The only positive Red Bull should take from this race is that the driver it would be mad to ignore for next year has now proven himself as an F1 winner.


Charles Leclerc crash Sakhir GP F1 2020 Ferrari

On Saturday we made the point that Charles Leclerc’s fourth on the grid was one of the finest achievements by anyone in any 2020 qualifying session, but that he was probably doomed to go backwards in the race as he had very few fresh tyres left and his car was a snail on the long straights.

Leclerc knew that too, so you couldn’t blame him for taking a bold approach to the first lap.

But clouting Perez was clumsy by his high standards. Leclerc could’ve at least got a few points today, and Verstappen probably would’ve won. At least being spun around ultimately ended up costing Perez nothing!

A three-place grid penalty for Abu Dhabi won’t really change Leclerc’s life as Ferrari was set to struggle there too, but it’s still not helpful.

Vettel was apparently also in this race. He finished a distant 12th as the man whose drive he’s taking for 2021 came from last to victory.


Jack Aitken F1 safety car Williams Sakhir GP 2020

There were some positives for Williams this weekend. Nicholas Latifi was looking good for ‘class C’ victory in 13th overall and Jack Aitken did a decent job all things considered in his short notice debut.

But on the flipside, Latifi retired with an oil leak so the team has nothing to show for its solid pace and Aitken’s crash effectively cost Williams’s ‘actual’ driver Russell a victory that surely would’ve pleased everyone at Grove too as the resultant safety car was the trigger for Mercedes shooting itself in the foot.

And you could also argue that the fact Russell was able to step straight into a Mercedes and blow the field away yet hasn’t been able to score a single point with Williams in nearly two years of trying is the ultimate indictment of just how much Williams has been holding him back.


Valtteri Bottas Mercedes F1 pitstop Sakhir GP 2020

You can probably count the times Mercedes has appeared in the ‘losers’ section of this feature on one hand – such is the rarity of the team ever dropping the ball.

But it was a “colossal fuck-up” – as team boss Toto Wolff described it – that put Russell on the back foot before his heartbreaking puncture and Bottas’s slide down the order today. A pit call disaster and communication breakdown isn’t what you expect from F1’s greatest team.

That’s still not too much of a disaster with all the titles wrapped up – although the same can’t be said for the looming driver market headaches caused by Russell’s spell in the spotlight.

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