Sergio Perez Earns First Career Win at Sakhir Grand Prix


A comeback win at the Sakhir Grand Prix was the first of Perez’s career. (Courtesy of Twitter)

Michael Hernandez, Assistant Sports Editor

Over the weekend, F1 raced again in Bahrain for the Sakhir Grand Prix. Everyone expected an exciting race week for several reasons. The main reason was that Lewis Hamilton tested positive for COVID-19, which meant that a seat in the fastest car was up for grabs, and whoever got it would have a strong chance at a podium or even a win. Mercedes decided to go with George Russell, who is a member of their driver development program, from the Williams team. This was expected since pundits and fans believe that Russell has the ability to be a future World Champion and this was his chance to prove us right. This knock-on effect led Jack Atiken to replace Russell in Williams. Also, due to Romain Grojean’s massive accident and near-death scare, he was unable to race this week which led to Pietro Fittipaldi replacing him in the Haas. Grosjean also announced that he will not race in the season finale next week, meaning that Fittipaldi will race again next week. Another reason that this race was exciting was that for the first time in F1, they raced on a different track layout than the traditional circuit at Bahrain, where they raced last week. This was a shorter track layout with lap times expected to be less than 1 minute.

After qualifying, the other Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas took pole position ahead of Russell by .027 of a second. Max Verstappen lined up in third with Charles Leclerc in fourth and Sergio Perez in fifth. On Sunday, when the lights went out, Russell overtook Bottas for the lead and built a decent gap on him. However, further down the order, there was some chaos. As the drivers entered turn four, Leclerc crashed into Perez. However, Perez was able to continue while Verstappen and Leclerc crashed out. Perez entered the pits and was last after the first lap. The safety car was brought out while the cars were removed. Once racing got underway again, Russell immediately created a gap against his much more experienced teammate in a car that he had never driven until the Friday before the race. From then on, he set the pace and was on track for a dominating win. He was immaculate, ensuring that his tires were in good shape while also managing the gap to Bottas. This would have brought Russell his first-ever points in his career. 

However, something occurred on lap 63. Aitken lost his front wing to one of the barriers but was able to continue the race. The debris needed to be recovered safely from the track. Since the track was short, there was no gap where a martial could run and safely remove the debris. This led to the safety car going out again. At this point, Russell and Bottas were ahead of the other cars by a large margin, so they used this safety car to enter the pits for new tires to ensure that on the restart, they had new and quicker tires. This is a strategy that every team uses since it is quicker to do a pit stop under the VSC or safety car in comparison to normal racing. Mercedes decided to double stack their cars, which meant that both cars entered the pits at the same time. It is a complicated maneuver that when pulled off correctly, looks like a work of art with the pit crew changing the tires on one car, then resetting and doing the same for the other car. However, there was a mixup. The mechanics serviced Russell first since he had track position and by mistake, they put Bottas’ tires on his car. When Bottas was being serviced, a mechanic noticed the mistake and sent Bottas out without changing his tires. This is important because each driver has a certain set of tires allocated to them and if they use someone else’s they could get disqualified. Russell was forced to pit again and a correct set was put on, dropping him down to fifth behind Bottas who was fourth due to his stop. 

Perez was now leading the race in front of Esteban Ocon and then Perez’s teammate Lance Stroll, with Bottas and Russell. When the safety car came in, Perez built a lead from Ocon, who had to defend from Stroll. Bottas was also put under immense pressure from Russell who quickly overtook him in spectacular fashion around the new section of the track. Russell was then able to get past Stroll and then Ocon within a few laps, which put him 3.5 seconds behind Perez with around 15 laps to go. At this point, everyone expected Russell to catch up and overtake Perez, which would prove that he has the potential to become a world champion when he eventually gets into the Mercedes in the future. However, Russell had to pit again because of a puncture on a tire. This put him down the order out of the points. At the front, Bottas was slipping since he was still on his old tires and eventually fell into eighth. Perez still led from Ocon then Stroll. After 87 laps of pure excitement, Perez finished first with Ocon second and Stroll third.

This was Perez’s first career F1 victory. In fact, he held the record for the longest time between his first race and his first win at 190 races which spans from 2011 until now. This was also Ocon’s maiden podium in his career. Russell was able to finish ninth which means that he finally has points in his career, but it should have been a win. He outperformed Bottas and proved that he deserves that seat either for next season or for the future. Now we look toward Abu Dhabi which is this week and the season finale. We still don’t know if Hamilton is clear to race since it depends on if he tests negative for COVID-19. Regardless of who races on which team, this season finale is expected to bring as much excitement as the rest of the year has given us so far.